Mobile Devices: Back to the Future

Remember the Nineties?

Remember Netscape Navigator and Eudora Mail and Compuserve? If you were trying to create web pages back then you’ll probably remember dealing with different web browsers and versions and plug-ins. I remember avoiding the use of tables because there were still browsers in use that didn’t support tables. Yes, tables. Like rows and columns.

All those heady memories have came rushing back to me as I delved into the wild and wacky world of the mobile web. Also know as WAP (wireless application protocol). Otherwise known as cell phones. With web browsers.

Most people my age can’t understand why anyone would voluntarily surf the web using a cell phone. That’s another discussion- all I know is what my web stats tell me. And they say people are hitting Places 2 Ride using mobile devices. Which made me wonder, “Just what the hell does it look like?”

Turns out it didn’t look like much.

My cell phone, a Motorola C261(far from a high tech piece), displayed certain parts of the site. The majority of it appeared to have slipped off the right side of the screen. Some images were visible, others were not. Columns were shown in a random order, seemingly picked from some celestial wi-fi soup. It needed work if several hundred people were going to insist on looking at it on a two-inch screen.

Anywho, back to the stroll down memory lane.

Turns out that delivering content to these mobile surfers is quite similar to those carefree days back in the Nineties. You’re dealing with limited bandwidth, tiny screens and a variety of browsers. Some phones do amazing things, many do very little. Some actually use the same web browser as a desktop computer. You may have a final product. But you don’t really know what it looks like to everyone.

Here are some links and tips I have found helpful in my WAP endeavors:

  • devMobi portion of the dotMobi website with reference, forums and tools for developers- including their handy…
  • Emulator at dotMobi here’s what supposedly looks like on a Sony/Ericcson K750 cell phone.
  • Blogger Mobile this article explains how to create a Blogger template that will play for mobile devices and desktop machine alike.
  • Tips just my own observations…

    • Don’t mess with WML (wireless markup language). This technology appears to have either never taken off or died prematurely. XHTML is where it’s at.
    • Learn a scripting lingo, or at least learn how to copy-n-paste it. Find a “browser sniffer” like a PHP or ASP script and use it to identify whether to show your visitor the normal website or the mobile site.
    • Minimize. You can’t display very much information to mobile users, so you’ll need to identify the most basic content and show only that.
    • Sign up for Ad Sense. Unless you plan to promote porn or gambling you don’t have many options for generating revenue from a mobile site. Google can supply relevant ads based on the content of your pages. When a visitor clicks, you earn revenue.

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