The Analyst, The iPhone, And The Future Of The Mobile Web

Dave Winer takes Forrester Research analyst Vidya Lakshmipathy to task for her report suggesting that the iPhone’s scroll-and-zoom Web browser “signals the beginning of the end for the mobile Web as we know it today.” Winer counters that the iPhone’s view of the Web is “not optimal” for mobile users. “Given a choice between a site well-designed for mobile use, and the extra work you have to do to zoom in and out and scroll in all directions to read a page laid out for a big screen on a tiny one, there’s no choice at all,” he says, “I’ll go with the one designed for mobile use.”

In reality, they’re both right — to an extent. It’s true that the iPhone has shaken up the mobile software industry: companies like Motorola are realising that their browsers suck, and we hope Palm, Microsoft, RIM, and others will figure that out soon, too.

But even if someday everyone has a browser as powerful as the iPhone’s Safari, that doesn’t fix the screen-size problem that Winer brings up. Web designers make their sites assuming a display width of about 1000 pixels. The iPhone’s screen is less than half that — 480 pixels tall and 320 pixels wide. For that reason, even if developers use proper Web coding standards, “normal” Web sites will always be crippled on iPhones and similar mobile devices.

Anyone who has used the iPhone on AT&T’s pokey EDGE data connection also knows that the bandwidth just isn’t there yet to browse hi-fi Web sites and actually enjoy it.  And for the foreseeable future, there are things you can do with a computer that you simply can’t do with phones, such as hovering a mouse cursor over part of a Web site, browsing with Java-based navigation, right-clicking on links and elegantly using multiple browser windows.

The near future of the Internet is going to look a lot like it did in the last decade, when content creators made separate sites for broadband and dialup users. The “real” Web will continue to get more and more multimedia-heavy, with Java, Flash, and video offerings designed for broadband connections. And the mobile Web should continue as a separate entity, accounting for smaller displays, and focusing on faster-loading, lo-fi content and simple navigation with fat fingers in mind.

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