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45,000 Slightly Different Ways to Optimize Mobile Websites
Industry chooses differentation over standards

A recent article on www.storefrontbacktalk.com by Fred J. Aun takes a look at, "Mobile Site Design: A Standards-Free Wild West."

The ever-increasing number of mobile devices hitting a global marketplace with minimal standards in place poses a real challenge for the development of mobile websites, applications and services. Standardization body attempts to provide clarity and guidance have fallen short with the industry focusing on differentiation over standardization.

Article excerpt:

Despite the talk about, and obvious need for, some standardization, the industry has gone in the opposite direction as carriers and device makers attempt to gain market share by differentiation, said Ran Farmer, managing director of Netbiscuits. Farmer said there are now between 5,000 and 6,000 unique mobile devices in use and each device has 750 to 800 characteristics that make it different from another, often in ways that can impact their rendering of Mobile Web pages.

When all those device idiosyncrasies are taken into consideration and carrier characteristics are added to the mix, a retailer wanting its M-Commerce site to appear properly on every device must have a system that can optimize the site in about 45,000 slightly different ways, Farmers said. “We test devices and we know that there are 750 to 800 different things about every device,” he said. “It’s a pretty big effort just to keep track.”

Their article concludes with the W3C’s best practices recommendations:

  • Ensure that content provided by accessing a URL yields a thematically coherent experience when accessed from different devices
  • Exploit device capabilities to provide an enhanced user experience
  • Carry out testing on actual devices as well as emulators
  • Keep the URLs of site entry points short
  • Provide only minimal navigation at the top of the page
  • Ensure that content is suitable for use in a mobile context
  • Limit scrolling to one direction
  • Do not use images that cannot be rendered by the device
  • Do not rely on cookies being available

In regards to standards, it certainly looks as if we have some way to go. Handset manufacturer and service provider alliances and business strategies often conflict with one another, particularly under the existing economic conditions. Consumer market factors will contribute to the standardization problems with varying consumer budgets influencing the types of bundled technologies, thus the devices overall capabilities. Local and regional factors in law, language and culture will also add another dimension to the issue.

It is certain however that there will be a steady stream of smartphones driving the adoption of mobile websites, applications and services. The good news is that there are companies out there who are taking the device fragmentation problem seriously and working to serve end-users with the best possible mobile experience.

About Robert Demmer
Robert Demmer is responsible for Developer Programs at JetBrains. He has more than 15 years experience in business consulting, communications, community engagement, marketing and advertising.

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