Although the mobile ecosystem consists of many different components, probably the most recognizable and important one is the mobile phone. All phones sold in the US today fall into one of three categories: feature phones, smartphones, or touchphones.
The mobile landscape consists of several other components besides phones. These include carriers, networks, platforms, and operating systems. Again, a basic understanding of all these is helpful before beginning a mobile web project.
Right now, there is a great deal of confusion and fragmentation surrounding many of these mobile web components. Thankfully, a major advantage of the the mobile web is its interoperability. An effective mobile website will reach a significant portion of mobile users, regardless of their carrier, network, platform or operating system.
There are several mediums through which mobile devices can deliver information and content to users. In Mobile Design and Development (O'Reilly Media, 2009), Brian Fling identifies six different mobile medium types: SMS, mobile websites, mobile web widgets, mobile web applications, native applications, and games.
Although this guide focuses on the mobile web, programs should also be familiar with each of the following options:
Although mobile web technology is improving, developing robust user experiences on phones remains a serious challenge. This sub-section explores the hurdles of developing in the mobile environment, and offers basic workarounds for site builders. (The technical details for many of the workarounds discussed here are laid out in greater detail later in the guide.)
Most of the major mobile challenges revolve around usability. Usability refers to the ease with which users can interact with a web interface and accomplish specific tasks on a site. As usability expert Jakob Nielsen noted in a recent Albertbox report, currently "it's neither easy nor pleasant to use the web on mobile devices." Several limitations exist in the mobile environment, Nielsen notes, that lead to a less than ideal user experience. These include small screens, awkward device inputs, flaky internet connections, and poorly designed sites.
Below we highlight a few of these limitations and provide some practical solutions:
Nielson also says that there are two major guidelines that any mobile web developer needs to follow when creating a mobile website: