Getting in on the 'Mobile' Internet | WebReference

Getting in on the 'Mobile' Internet

Getting in on the 'Mobile' Internet

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In the early part of 2006, ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) approved the domain suffix .mobi for Web sites designed for Internet-enabled mobile phones and other mobile devices. The Mobile Top Level Domain, or mTLD, is administered by dotMobi, a consortium of 13 leading mobile and Internet organizations consisting of Ericsson, GSM Association, Google, Hutchison, Microsoft, Nokia, Orascom Telecom, Samsung Electronics, Syniverse, Telefónica Móviles, TIM [Telecom Italia], T-Mobile and Vodafone. The registration process began in May 2006. As of March 2007, 400,000 .mobi domain names have been registered.

What does this mean to you as a Web developer/designer? Well, for one thing, mobile phones have become the medium of choice for communications. According to Peter Chernin, President and COO of News Corp., "Mobile is the largest distribution platform on earth. There are two billion cell phone users vs. one billion Internet users and one billion television users" ("Outlook 2007: The Future is Now," Fortune Magazine, February 5, 2007, Vol. 155, No. 2). The GSM Association states that there were over 2.4 billion devices in circulation across the various mobile networks worldwide by mid 2006 (Quocirca Insight Report, December 2006 [PDF]). According to the GSM Association predictions, 1.3 billion people will be connected to the Internet through mobile devices by 2008 (dotMobi white paper: "Where Next for the 'Mobile Internet'?" [PDF]).

People are beginning to use their mobile phones for more than just voice communications. As an example, imagine a business person waiting for a doctor's appointment. With a mobile phone they could scan today's headlines and read important stories. They could also check the status of pending orders with suppliers, or even catch a bit of mobile TV. This would save valuable time which would otherwise be wasted reading a magazine that's probably over three months old.

For the Web developer/designer, this is a great opportunity. Not that it hasn't been there. But the use of mTLDs makes it much more attractive for businesses to implement online content aimed at mobile phone users. While it's not for every site, if you know your client's audience you can get a pretty good idea if it would be advantageous for their visitors.

Getting Started

Some sites can already be viewed via a mobile device just as they are but generally they're not formatted correctly. You can find out how your site looks right on the dotMobi site. (Note: you must have Java enabled on your browser to utilize the mobile emulator.) Most Web sites don't translate well to a small screen. In addition, the content that mobile phone users want is generally different than what's offered on a typical Web site.

Many major news sites already offer slimmed-down versions for mobile access. They can usually be found by replacing "www" with "mobile," e.g., http://mobile.cnn.com. (Be aware that this will open an XML file not readable in a regular browser since there's no style information associated with it.) As a case in point, CNN's site rates at 3 out of 5 using the ready.mobi report. You can test your own site to see how it ranks. Also, the dotMobi site features a showcase of interesting mobile-ready sites. These can be viewed on the dotMobi site using their Java-enabled mobile phone emulator.

The question is, how do you design sites for mobile phones? The Worldwide Web Consortium's Mobile Web Initiative and its "Mobile Web Best Practices" documentation offer the standards for this type of design. dotMobi has created an entire section for developers. Here you can:

  • Obtain a copy of the dotMobi Mobile Web Developer's Guide [PDF]
    This is an excellent guide for getting started. It covers layout, standards, the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), the WML (Wireless Markup Language) language, getting started with XHTML, recommendations and best practices, and mobile publishing.
  • Take a free online training course for developers.
    This is a well laid-out course. It includes, notes, slides and an audio teacher. It's easy to move around especially if you want to concentrate on one aspect of the material.
  • Test out your newly-created mobile site to see how it stacks up.

Below are some references to help with developing Web sites for mobile devices. In the future I'll write a series on developing sites for mobile devices that should offer insight and aid in their development.

Conclusion

As mobile devices become more prevalent, it's only natural that people will use them to access the Web. That means that, as Web developers/designers, we'll need to produce Web sites that they can use. It's not really a big transition. Just think compact - but you can still be creative. Check out the South by Southwest mobile Web site or China's biggest music star, Wei Wei, who launched http://weiwei.mobi as the sole channel for the global debut of her new album.

It's exciting to see what's happening with other areas of development. The potential for mobile Web sites is beyond anything we can now see (HTML 2.0 anyone?).

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