Mobile Web Design

Reviewed December 4th, 2007 @ 09:24AM

[Book Cover] Mobile Web Design

Mobile Web Design by Cameron Moll is a very small, but concise and thorough, book on designing for the mobile web. This book does not teach methods for designing for mobile devices, but the options available to use as web developers. Cameron does a great job of being exhaustive on the subject in a quick 102 page read.

This book starts out with some statistics and history related to mobile web usage. This gives us a snapshot foundation to work with, and Cameron relays the importance of mobile web design in the current market, as well as moving forward. To ignore designing for mobile devices now would mean leaving out a very large demographic. Unfortunately, much like the browser wars of the past, it isn't an even playing field across all devices. Cameron's testing of the different mobile devices helps us get a clearer picture, but things are still tricky. At least when you are designing for a browser, you have the ability to test in those browsers across several machines. Attaining mobile devices for testing isn't always an option for the average designer. His insight and research is very helpful as you begin the journey of mobile design.

The need for mobile web design is very clear, and could be vital to you depending on your business model. So how does one get started with mobile web design? What are the options? The advent of Web Standards taught us that it would be as easy as adding media="handheld". Cameron presents us with the following options, each with a list of their advantages and disadvantages:

  1. Do Nothing
  2. Reduce Images and Styling
  3. Use Handheld Style Sheets
  4. Create Mobile-Optimized Content

I won't attempt to re-hash each of these as Cameron does an excellent job breaking each of the options down. After discussing the options the question is asked: Which method is the best? If I were to answer this question, I would side with the option that we need to create mobile-optimized content. The research has shown that the handheld media type will be of relatively little use across the wide range of devices and mobile browsers. Ultimately, the mobile device has different contextual needs than a desktop environment. You have to deal with screen limitations, technology limitations, and speed limitations, to name a few.

Now that we have our options clearly marked, where do we begin with development? It is time to look at the XHTML/CSS development. Cameron gives us some concrete examples of markup and our options when using CSS. He walks through a basic document, from the doctype to the markup itself. While we adhere to standards in mobile development, it does not stray course from the standards we have for the desktop environment. There is no need to create new standards, only the need to build for the context. After he walks us through the HTML and CSS, he talks about device detection and sniffing User-Agents to serve up content accordingly. He admits that this approach is not 100% reliable, but gives us some examples using PHP of how this could be achieved if we wanted to venture this route.

We now have our beautifully crafted markup for our mobile devices, but how can we be certain it will appear as we hoped? We now move to the chapter discussing testing and validation. Though testing with the devices themselves is the best option, it isn't always feasible. Cameron gives us links to some great software or extensions to browsers that allow us to simulate small screen devices and User-Agent switching to test any device detection we might be using. Also, as with designing in the desktop environment, it is good to validate your code and be assured everything is in line.

As we have already seen, mobile devices present us with a different context. Next we look beyond the simple XHTML pages and tap into some other technologies that we can use. These include, but are not limited to, SMS, Java ME, SVG, FlashLite, GPS, Widgets, RSS and APIs, and AJAX. Each of these can play an important role in the contextual tools we can use. GPS for location awareness where we could perform searches based on their current location. SMS services allowing people to interact with their accounts in an easier fashion than potentially convoluted web forms. Using SVG to have your graphics scale appropriately for the device. Using widgets, such as with Blue Flavor's Leaflets. Each of these tools gives us more flexibility and power to create context sensitive interfaces. This chapter only scratches the surface on the possibilities.

Now all of your pieces are in place, it is time to promote your content and let people know you exist. This chapter discusses several options to promote and make people aware of your mobile content. Do you want to create a .mobi site, giving users a familiar address to use? Do you want to advertise online in the right arenas? There are several options you have, the first of which would be promoting from your own site. Exploring your options will help you choose the best plan of execution for exposure.

This book rounds off with a plea from the author for a more desirable mobile web experience. He states:

The production of desirable mobile user experiences will require the combined efforts of device manufacturers, browser developers, content providers, and ultimately you

Don't let the size of this book fool you into thinking it has little to share. This book is packed with valuable information from page 1. Each section is very exhaustive, with content, photos, illustrations, and links to other resources for extended research. For those who might need more persuading, you can download a free sample to check it out for yourself. Also, if you know of someone who would benefit from this book (including yourself), order before December 15th for a special holiday discount (it could even be used as a stocking stuffer).