I'm going to create a mobile version of a website.

This is the first time I'll be creating a mobile specific website.

What do I need to know? What do I need to be aware off?

Good tips and resources requested!

-- Sri


If you're building a mobile site, then you are entering a world of pain! Seriously. I have spent a year as project manager on mobile web portal projects, and the browser bugs and platform differences are orders of magnitude worse than full-PC web application development.

The first thing I will say is: Look carefully at the business case. There is a first-mover advantage to the mobile space right now; but you may or may not earn money from a mobile version. Think carefully about this.

The second thing is: Limit device targets as much as possible. As you add devices the customer support and quality assurance burdens practically explode. If you can get away with only supporting iPhones + Androids, then do so. At least set a fixed list of which phones are fully supported, and which are partially supported, and keep it at that.

You will not be able to target all devices 'well' with one technology solution. (At least not unless you define 'well' as pure text, left aligned, minimal styling). The 4 main 'families' of formats for mobile websites are:

  • HTML 5. 'Best' compromise between strong features and strict, consistent parsing right now. Only works on state-of-the-art mobiles (practically means iPhones and Androids right now).
  • XHTML Mobile. Most compatible, widest device support. What you want for all not-brand-new Nokias, Sony-Ericssons, etc. In other words XHTML Mobile works with the bulk of the installed based of handsets. But often the users of these handsets don't really use mobile sites that much, so they are a lesser percentage of actual visits to mobile properties.
  • Tag soup, i.e. HTML 4.01, full XHTML 1.0 etc. Works as 'tag soup' does, only compatible with very recent phone models.
  • WAP. For almost all use cases this format is dead now. I would not consider it for any kind of green-field development anymore. (The phones that only can do WAP are so old and broken that no human will really want to use them as compute platforms. Think monochrome screens, no QWERTY keyboard etc.)

Nota bene: Only state of the art mobiles support Javascript (again, limited support on iPhones, decent on Android, some other smartphones with different operating systems have Javascript support but only in very recent models).

Last but not least, consider native applications, possibly 'hybrid' apps which have some part of the application chrome and logic installed locally, and pull other content in via the network. Developing native applications for the iPhone is really surprisingly cheap, and native apps are of course faster and more user-friendly than in-browser apps.

What do I need to know? What do I need to be aware off?

If that is were you are at now, then either be prepared to spend a lot of time learning, or consider hiring in external know-how.

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What do I need to know?

I'd start with the W3C's Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 and see what sites like Smashing Magazine have to say about designing sites for mobile devices.

What do I need to be aware off?

WAP is pretty much dead with the advent of mobile phone browsers (usually stripped-down versions of traditional desktop browsers) - there is no pressing need to stress over arcane protocols when the tools you've become accustomed to will suffice.

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Some nice articles on this topic -

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