Web Standards for Mobile – Beyond iPhone

I’ve been an avid Mac user for many years, since about 1996, and actually that’s when I started working on the web. Needless to say i’ve been at the sharp end of peoples decisions as to “what platform to develop for”. When IE and windows were the dominant web platform numerous useful services were blocked to me due to people thinking it’s cheaper to develop for the majority. Thankfully with the help of people like Jeffrey Zeldman and the Web Standards Project more and more people are developing code for standards as opposed to platforms. Developing for web standards means it will work well enough on pretty much every platform that understands web standards, and then you can invest a bit more into “targeting” a specific platform to take advantage of a specific platform.

And yet, these same people who are developing in web standards for browsers have suddenly forgotten all that good practice when it comes to developing for mobile. I mean seriously, I know the iPhone is cool, and has a safari based web browser, but so do most of the Nokia Nseries right (yes, they had safari based web browsers before the iPhone was out)? So all you web 2.0 folks developing iPhone web applications, just remember if you just use web standards they can work for a lot more people. Take a look at this graph of activity on flickr for the iPhone and the top 3 Nseries devices:

nseries picture
(the # of Members is the amount of people who uploaded at least 1 photo the previous day)

This is not supposed to provide accurate market data, but as you can see there are a lot of people out there in the web 2.0 world with Nokia Nseries so it just makes business sense right? Believe me I’m not doing this to pump up Nokia, I’m just tired of mobile apps not working on my N95 :-)

Here’s a list of the Top 25 web applications for iPhone

Full disclosure yes I work for Nokia, but this is a personal plea.

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  1. Wills
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I disagree somewhat. I have both an iPhone and an N95 and the browsing experience on the iPhone blows the Nokia away. Why should we be catering to the lowest common denominator?

    Besides, on the whole a site optimised for the iPhone is still adhering to web standards. Its just that with no buttons and a touch screen interface, it represents different problems to solve than your traditional mobile.

  2. Posted January 24, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm, that’s kind of like saying the browsing experience is better on Firefox so lets only build sites for Firefox :-) My point is that if you want to build a web application for mobile devices if it doesn’t work on Nseries (safari based) web browsers you are making a poor business decision because you are ignoring a very large chunk of the mobile browsers out there. Look at the flickr numbers, each of the Nseries devices is equal in numbers to the iPhone.

  3. Wills
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Other than a user agent string, is there anything in those web apps that would stop you from browsing with any other phone? As far as I can tell, there is nothing proprietary going on. They’re all built on web standards. They all work fine on Firefox right now from what I can see. If the Nokia device can’t access them, its because of the poor browser they ship with (and yes, it is a poor browser – there is more to a browser than the Webkit rendering engine).

    They are however optimised for the iPhone’s screen size and touch input. Anybody with even a passing interest in UI can see that what we have are two different methods of accessing the net, when comparing an N Series to an iPhone. This goes beyond web standards, but importantly, Apple support them.

    Lastly, regarding your numbers – people posting pictures on Flickr doesn’t really say anything about web use. I am more interested in the number of people who are actually using those Nokia’s for frequent web use. I am sure you are aware of that report (NetApplications I think) that said that iPhone already has a greater market share in terms of page views on the web than all other Symbian devices combined. So how is it a poor business decision to have a dedicated, iPhone optimised version of the site?

  4. Posted January 24, 2008 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I would certainly be interested in any solid numbers you might have, I was just using the flickr example to demonstrate that there were plenty of other types of mobile customers using web 2.0 services beyond iPhone. I took a look around the Netapplications site and the only data i found on mobile browsers and all operating systems didn’t list any Symbian devices so i’m wondering if they actually track Symbian?

    What actually inspired this post was when I tried out some of the mobile GTD apps listed on http://mashable.com/2008/01/22/gtd-toolbox-get-things-done-on-mobile-devices/ – The web based ones did not work so well on my N95, and were advertised to be tuned for the iPhone, hence my post. The only GTD focused web app that works well on the N95 was http://todoist.com

    BTW A couple of the mobile apps i use on a regular basis which work great on my browser are the Google Reader, Yelp, Facebook, and i’ll soon be working more on Todoist (i hope)

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