iPhone and the new mobile web



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There are a few things that excite me about the newly announced iPhone (and a few details that I’m unclear on). One thing I’m pretty sure of is that the coming of the iPhone is the tipping point for a new kind of mobile web.

I call it a tipping point more than trailblazing because there are already several devices out there that are just waiting for a new mobile web. These are fairly robust devices that have “real” browsers in them. These browsers are fully capable of reading the desktop web, but just because they can doesn’t mean it’s ideal. I’m specifically talking about Nokia’s internet tablets (the 770 and N800), current and upcoming mobile phones from Nokia that include the S60 browser, other mobile devices with advanced versions of Opera and even non-mobile gaming devices such as the Nintendo Wii.

So what about this new mobile web thing? It’s quite simple. These devices fall somewhere in between the desktop web and the traditional mobile web. It’s sort of a Goldielocks and the three bears situation. Yes, you can view the regular desktop web on this new generation of devices, but you end up having to zoom in to actually read anything or blow everything in to a single column layout (killing the design in the process) if you’re going to read longer passages. The opposite is true when viewing traditional mobile web pages on this new breed of device: the sites look stripped down and barebones in a stark “All we want are the facts, ma’am” way.

There is a middle ground between the desktop and traditional mobile web just waiting to thrive on these new devices. These new sites will feature more visually rich content and design from the desktop side but will also contain the immediacy and usefulness of the traditional mobile web.

Developing for the mobile web has never been easy, and I don’t think it’s going to become as simple as creating a myspace profile any time soon, but there are a few things now and on the horizon that are going to make it a lot easier. First of all, there are more mobile browsers supporting more aspects of CSS and Javascript. Specifically the S60 browser, the versions of Opera on many of these new devices, and the version of Safari on the iPhone all support CSS and Javascript quite well. It is also quite nice that while the Nokia N95 and the Apple iPhone are very different devices, they both have at their core the same basic rendering engine, KHTML. The specifics may be different (Safari vs. S60 browser) but I’m hoping that the core rendering behavior remains relatively consistent across these devices. Writing for the iPhone, S60 browser, and Opera will hopefully become as (relatively) easy as making sure a site renders properly in Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. I definitely think that making the same site look good with KTHML and Opera is going to be a lot easier than making a site look good in Safari and IE.

Welcome to the tipping point, folks. It’s going to be a helluva ride.


17 responses to “iPhone and the new mobile web”

  1. shawn mccollum Avatar

    I’ve been hoping for some consolidation on the mobile browser front for a year. Opera has made some great strides. I also hope that as companies bring out linux on mobiles that they will stick with a default browser like minimo. I’m hoping that in the next year or two I can easily test with opera, safari, minimo, PIE and s60 on my desktop and know that it will look the same on a mobile. Then I can turn up the style of my site.

  2. […] Matt Croydon: “There are a few things that excite me about the newly announced iPhone (and a few details that I’m unclear on). One thing I’m pretty sure of is that the coming of the iPhone is the tipping point for a new kind of mobile web.”     […]

  3. Michael Gilfix Avatar

    The iPhone has enough mind-share with the regular user that this could very well be the tipping point. The real question is the price point. If you take the 500/600 or so and divide by two, then you get ~250 for the iPod part and then ~250 for the phone. The only problem is that you have to go with Cingular (for now) it seems. Having to plunk down all that money at once may only appear to the very tech savvy first adopters. But the emphasis on user interface and the associated bling does seem to promise reaching a new audience that devices like the blackberry cannot.

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