Actually, the mobile web really does suck

I access the web via mobile on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean the mobile web is fine and dandy. Publishing 2.0 says the mobile web sucks, Russell Beattie disputes it. His arguments don’t make sense – the mobile web is getting better, but still sucks.

1) 3G is slow? Get a better 3G phone and then learn how to use it. My preferred mobile (an LG CU500) gets DSL speeds down, and my preferred browser (Opera mini) is as easy to use as a desktop browser, and just as fast.

Yes, 3G is slow. I researched my phone extensively and came up with a popular choice, the Orange SPV M700, aka HTC Trinity, aka, HTC P3600. Pretty good for text-only sites, though you notice the latency, but image-heavy sites load very slowly. When this happens on a mobile, it sucks as you have to scroll around for ages to find the text between the unloaded images.

Browser, don’t talk to me about browser! I registered Opera for my phone – it’s better than IE because it supports tabbing. However, it’s vastly disappointing – its auto-completion is based on the last 10 or so addresses you visited, there’s no easy way to go to your homepage, and the real deal-breaker is the poor support of bookmarks. About 3 deep in the menu hierarchy to add bookmarks and 3 deep to change them.

2) Public Wifi is a Scam? No s***, Sherlock. You can’t depend on WiFi outside your house or office. Again, get yourself a decent phone on a 3G network and you won’t have this problem. I double-check prices inside Best Buy in seconds, chat on IM while having a coffee and entertain my kid with downloaded videos all via 3G networks, and I don’t think twice about whether there’s WiFi around.

In his own affable way, Russell agrees with the original poster, so nothing to say here. It was interesting to see the recent UK IPhone announcement based on free access to TheCloud wifi network as a poor compromise for the lack of 3G. If I was ever going to trade up for an iphone, that stopped me in my tracks – no way would I put my entire connectivity down to whether or not I happen to be near a hotspot.

3) Sites aren’t formatted for small screens… Um, well, then those sites aren’t part of the Mobile Web, are they? Even if you’re talking about *accessing regular web sites while mobile* it’s still a dumb-ass thing to bitch about as it just highlights one’s inability to use a decent mobile browser and or the lack of effort to bookmark a site’s mobile version. A couple years ago there might have been a dearth of mobile sites, but just about every major site out there now – from Typepad to Yahoo to Wikipedia, have m.* versions.

Um, well, then that means the mobile web sucks doesn’t it? Most sites don’t make it obvious they have a mobile version (m.) even when it does exist – am I going to try out m. just in case. Fine for a site you visit regularly but not worth the effort for the many sites you just drop in and out of. Yes, it’s possible to change the view by diving into the browser menu again – however, even with my speedy 400MHz phone, it usually takes 5-15 seconds to re-render, and you usually have to scroll back down again. You might even have to do this a couple of times before you get the view right, you might never get it right.

4) Mobile device screens are too small? Oh, well, that’s it then! By this definition, the mobile web will never un-suck, because if you’re looking at the web on a device that doesn’t fit in your pocket, IT’S NOT MOBILE NOW IS IT?!? I guess we can all go home now. Someone call me when they’ve figured out how to put an 20 inch XVGA screen in the palm of my hand. What a f*** dumb-ass criticism.

This is true for now, but not forever – foldable devices like old-school Game-N-Watches and the Nintendo DS hint at what’s possible in the future. Electronic Ink can be made in a form that folds up and it’s also possible to project onto a wall. For now, though, the manufacturers could do more to compensate for the small screen – e.g. better browsers and better use of text-to-speech and speech-to-text (two technologies which have been around for decades and a perfect fit for mobile devices, but are virtually non-existent in modern phones).

5) Advertising gets in the way? Again, what the f***? First, no ads means you’d be bitching about how everything on the mobile web costs money. Secondly, there’s hardly any ads on the mobile web to begin with. Thirdly, are there any regular websites out there that don’t have ads? Complaining about a website having ads is like complaining it’s not 1996 anymore. Grow up.

Ads aren’t a major problem to me, certainly not significant compared to the problems you have with images. The only issue I have with Russell’s comment here is his insistence to keep referring to “the mobile web”, which sounds like some kind of Compuserve-like parallel universe. I assume he means the tiny subset of websites that have a mobile version, but I don’t consider that a separate “web”. If for no other reason, they don’t even link to each other – if a yahoo page gets to the top of digg, then diggriver.com (mobile digg) is not going to link to m.yahoo.com. In some cases, the browser will end up rendering the mobile version (if you’re lucky), but this is a dual-edged sword – there are many mobile devices around, which means the main site is better than the mobile one, which simply doesn’t work.

(I covered up swear-words in Russell’s quotes – doesn’t do much for me either way, but some filtering software will block the post if I left it in.)

For these reasons, I mainly tend to stick to one website, the same website I’ve browsed on my phone for three years and one which has always had a decent mobile version. Bloglines.

3 thoughts on Actually, the mobile web really does suck

  1. Thanks for the post, I thought your point about folding devices is particularly valid. On the same point, devices like the iPhone, with their increased resolution and screen clarity, have made the small-screen problem less of a problem. Ever tried watching video on an iPhone? Beautiful.

  2. Jon, Agree – seeing youtube on iphone the first time was amazing. I really hope Apple will get its act together in the e-reading space and do for writing what the ipod did for music.

    Johan, I think you’re right. All I know is I went to opera.com from my phone’s IE and what I got and ultimately registered (due purely to multiple tabs) is what was served from their site, presumably the default for my phone.

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