Mobile Web Best Practices

Abstract

This article briefly describe the history of the mobile web, the W3C recommendation “Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0”, and how the latter is implemented in siteSifter Journal.

Introduction

It was not until the last few years of the 20th century that surfing the web from a mobile device became practical.

The first move towards a truly portable world–wide web came with the WAP 1.0 specification in 1998. This set of standards, among them the XML–based Wireless Markup Language, was meant to combine a number of already existing technologies, and tailor–made to a world in which processing power and bandwidth were both at a premium on mobile phones and PDAs.

As pages were written in WML, which required a deeper understanding of markup as well as a better organised publication process than was common at the time — or indeed today — WAP never became the success the backers had hoped.

While a well–designed publication system could transform properly written HTML pages to WML with only minor difficulties, few content–management systems and authors had the required skill sets to implement such multi–channel publication methods.

All of that changed as networks improved bandwidth, as mobile phones gained processing power, and as WAP 2.0 arrived using a variant of XHTML.

For WAP, the final nail in the coffin came when mobile devices begun incorporating fully–fledged web browsers supporting regular HTML, CSS, images and scripts.

The Mobile Difficulty

Even with the advent of full–featured browsers, mobile devices remained far behind their desktop siblings in terms of screen real–estate and processing power.

For sensibly structured pages this is normally not a problem, as HTML in particular is designed to re–flow content.

It soon became clear that wide images and fixed–width layouts was even more of a problem on phones and PDAs than on traditional screens. Form controls presented other difficulties with, in particular, the entry of larger amounts of information. The cost of bandwidth for content aimed at large screens was high.

For these, and other, reasons the W3C created the Mobile Web Best Practice guidelines in 2008.

siteSifter and the MWBP

siteSifter was augmented with a MWBP baseline in 2011, following a request for such functionality. Time, sadly, may have passed much of this baseline by — screen sizes, in particular on tablets — have increased, as has capabilities. Costs have, in many cases, been reduced.

Regardless, for many users in large parts of the world, mobile web access is still by fairly simple means; data transfer is often paid for by the megabyte, and less is more.

The siteSifter baseline is intended as a tool in aiding developers to ensure compatibility with more than just the very latest in mobile devices.

As usual we cannot automate all the checkpoints, but some 54 different tests are available to all clients, regardless of subscription.

MWBP reports are normally created in the Generic HTML format. A complete description of the various tests involved in the baseline is available in the user manual.

References

Please note that these references are not necessarily endorsed by Greytower. Links are valid as of the 24th of May 2012.

WAP 1.0
http://www.wapforum.org/what/technical_1_0.htm
Open Mobile Alliance, 30th of April 1998

Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0
http://www.w3.org/TR/mobile–bp/
W3C, 29th of July 2008