about standards, webdesign, usability and open source

Re: The iPhone obsession

I’m afraid PPK has gone off the deep end again. While I value his work on documenting desktop browser quirks and mobile browsers immensely, it is getting more and more difficult to take him serious when he rants about the iPhone.

His complaint that web developers are ignoring other platforms in favour of the iPhone is superficially reasonable though. Developing websites that specifically target the iPhone is popular at the moment and naturally this is a concern. If you only test on one platform you are potentially causing problems for a lot of other users. His comparison with IE 6 is only somewhat accurate. Developers used to test only in IE6 and ignore other browsers. That caused so many problems that even 9 years later we still have to deal with companies that refuse to upgrade to a newer version because their intranet applications are only working in IE6. Okay, I’ll grant him that.

There is a very big difference though. Nowadays developers are used to developing based on standards and the iPhone has excellent standards support. If you build an iPhone specific website based on standards there is very good chance it will also function on other phones. If it doesn’t that problem is usually due to the crappy rendering of your phone rather than lazy web developers.

Almost all of the iPhone specific features that developers love to use such as animations, transitions, offline cache and local storage are actually not iPhone specific, but already standards or in the process of being standardized. And it is quite easy to build a website using progressive enhancement that will function perfectly fine on an older browser while at the same time look great on the iPhone and other phones that have a modern browser, such as the Palm Pre, Nokia N900 and the Android based phones.

What about the Blackberry, S60 based phones and Windows Mobile phones? If they fail to render a perfectly valid, standards based website then so be it. Likewise I also don’t test any more in Firefox 1, Opera 7, Safari 2 or IE5. And even IE6 will only get any attention if my clients are willing to pay extra. Nokia and Microsoft should get off their ass and ship a decent browser. S60 Webkit was forked from the Webkit project in 2005 and hasn’t had any real improvements since. Windows Mobile is even worse; it is based on the same engine that shipped with IE6 back in 2001. At least Blackberry is working on a better browser.

The problem isn’t lazy web developers, it’s that mobile browser have only just begun to become usable and useful. The developers are not just ignoring other phones in favour of the iPhone; it is much bigger than that. The iPhone is simply the first phone that has really excited web developers and clients enough to take an interest in mobile browsers and mobile websites. It’s time to encourage these developers to embrace the capabilities that the iPhone brings to the table and take the mobile web to the next level. And if one or more manufacturers refuse do a better job and keep shipping crappy browsers, they deserve to be left behind.

You can’t go forward by building mobile websites for the lowest common denominator. Despite of what PPK claims, user experience is important. A mobile site that was build for technology that is at least four years old isn’t going to cut it when you want to reach the users of modern phones. Sure, you can add a couple of nice animations and some gradients and… What is that saying again? You can polish a…

So, if a client asks me to build a mobile website I’ll just be honest with him. I’ll tell him that if he wants to reach as many devices as possible he needs to build at least two separate mobile sites. A very limited one for the crappy browsers and the one he actually wanted me to build in the first place. I’ll also tell him that if he doesn’t want to build two sites, he should focus on phones with modern browsers. This isn’t about market share; it’s about the traffic it generates. I don’t care how big your marked share is, if your users aren’t using their phone to browse the web, it is just silly to spend any energy into a website that isn’t going to be used anyways. Furthermore every time one of those crappy phones will be replaced with a modern one, more people are going to visiting the modern mobile site and less the crappy site.

Comments are closed.