I moderated a panel on Mobile Web Trends this past week at the Webguild event with some fantastic people in the lineup. Unfortunately I was also sick last weekend and at the start of this week, so I’ve been digging myself out from under a mountain of backlog and haven’t had time to pass along some of the excellent info that came out of the discussion. Here’s my attempt to get down at least part of it.
There was of course a lot of caution against designing a mobile application as simply a scaled down version of the web application. The overall context of a mobile user is much different than a user at the PC most of the time, so figuring out what the main goals of a user on the move will be is the primary concern, not exposing every feature of your website. Sometimes you can make an effective mobile web application by exposing just a very small percentage of what’s available on the site as a whole, just pulling the features up to a place where they’re immediately available and presented in a way that would fit what the mobile user is most likely to be looking for. Knowing what that mobile user is going to be going after really implies understanding a completely different set of user interactions, sometimes it’s better to just scrap everything you’ve done on the web site and start fresh. Try to understand what the user is trying to do without making reference to your existing website at all. Given that need for acknowledging the need for two completely different interaction styles, there was generally support for the dotMobi concept, although the new top level domain was generally considered to be a bad idea.
Seamus mentioned that in terms of the data they’re seeing at MMetrics there’s a very strong correlation between the quality of handset a user has and the amount of data they consume. There are certainly other factors that correlate well (young users use more, people with access to flat rate plans use more, etc), but the most consistent and dramatic is handset quality. I thought that was really interesting. I’m a geek, and a mobile geek to boot, so the phone I have in my pocket is almost never representative of what the average user has. I had assumed that the general phone was getting to be just about ‘good enough’ in terms of capability, but that it was the applications themselves and general disinterest or price sensitivity on the part of the user that was keeping folks from using more data services on their phone. Looks like that might not be the case. I need to digest that some.
There was a decent amount of optimism around the overall Web 2.0 trend and the impact it will have on the mobile web, however “getting phones to do AJAX” really isn’t what you should be thinking about first. The web as a platform could be great for mobile because it helps to smooth over all the impracticalities of writing software directly to all the devices out there. However the mobile web has had it’s own set of problems that have made it anything but a consistent platform for mobile devices. Will a round of refreshes and updates pulling for the best principles that are driving Web 2.0 make the mobile web a more realist place to develop applications? Hopefully.
One thing that just about everyone agreed upon was that the standards process for the mobile web just doesn’t seem to be addressing the practical issues that need to be closed in order for the platform to progress. Thus opening the door for efforts like Opera Mini to roll up the browser market pretty quickly simply because it’s a freely available point of consistency. I would love to see the equivalent of a Firefox for mobile devices. If only I had something resembling free time, I would try digging into Minimo some. Open platforms, open devices, open APIs – everyone on the panel and in the audience seemed to nod their head every time any one of those phrases was brought up. You know I agree with that.