fax machine, website, social media…
In the 80's, everybody needed a fax machine.
In the 90's, everybody needed a website.
In the aughts, everybody needed social media.
Now they say everybody needs a mobile website. That's this month's topic.
Everybody Needs A Mobile Website?
Bunko, I say. That is, not everybody needs one. Like all the latest buzz words, it depends.
First, let's define a few terms.
- Mobile-Safe Site
- A website that doesn't fail on a mobile device.
- Media-heavy sites that have video, audio or Flash might fail on a phone.
Standard HTML sites probably work on most mobile devices. They might
appear very small, but they don't fail.
- Mobile-Friendly Site
- A website designed to accommodate small screens.
- A standard HTML site can use different styles, larger text and bigger
buttons when it's viewed on a phone or tablet. This could include bigger
buttons and larger menus that can be tapped with a thumb on a phone. Or
it could be as simple as having a tappable phone number in the upper
left corner where most mobile devices focus when displaying a website.
- Mobile Site
- A website designed specifically for mobile devices.
- Websites can easily detect the type of device a user has and serve a
different layout for each device. It can be as simple as one site for
mobile devices and one for computers, and it can be as complex as a
different website for each brand or model of mobile device.
Do you need a mobile site?
The first questions are:
- Who's your audience?
- How do you communicate with them and they with you?
- What are your business goals for your website?
Let's take a few examples.
Restaurant…yeah, a mobile website could be a big help.
More and more people (particularly younger demographics) use mobile
phones to search and browse the web. And where are people when they're
looking for a restaurant? Sometimes at home, but often they're on the
road searching on their mobile phone. A mobile site is in order.
Financial Planner…oh, maybe. How much financial
research do people do their phones? Not much. A mobile site could help
but wouldn't be a priority in most cases. A mobile-friendly site would
High Tech Company…probably, even if the only reason is to create an image of being up-to-date.
Attorney…Corporate Attorney, maybe but probably not. A
Criminal Attorney, yes. People who have been arrested (or their family
whom they called) might be at the jail and have only their mobile
Handy Man Service…probably not. A mobile-safe site or a mobile-friendly site is probably the right approach.
Of course, these generalizations can be thrown away based on your
specific situation. You could imagine any business that's trying to
reach recent college graduates, a demographic that uses mobile devices a
lot. A very mobile-friendly site or even a mobile site would be the
The Good News:
It's Easier and Better Today
These days, browsers, computers and mobile devices work pretty well with the current web standards–HTML5 and CSS3.
Back in the old days (you know, 1996), browser support for web standards
was mixed; some design features required hacks to compensate for quirks
in Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Today there are still
hacks and quirks, but it has come a long way. We've reached that sweet
spot where popular browsers have pretty consistent support for the
The Bottom Line
With the current standards, designing for mobile devices is fairly
routine. Don't be intimidated by the newness of the technology. If a
mobile site could help with a relevant business goal, it's within reach
even with a modest budget.