Making your site mobile/iPhone friendly is relatively simple to do. If you’re a WordPress blogger, all you have to do is install WP Touch (previously discussed here) and adjust the options to suit your liking.
But if you are among the bloggers that haven’t created a mobile-friendly version of your site, you are not alone. The vast majority of sites on the Web do not have mobile-friendly versions, especially small-to-midsized sites, and there doesn’t appear to be any rush to add the capability.
Though the growth in mobile browsing has grown faster than desktop Web browsing, it still only makes up a fraction of overall Web surfing. Furthermore, even those who are using mobile surfing are not generally using it as their primary or sole means to access the Web, but rather, are using it for specific tasks.
This begs the question of how important mobile optimization is for Web sites and if it is something bloggers should worry about. The answer, however, is far from cut and dry.
Mobile IS the Future
To be clear, mobile browsing is the future of the Web or at least a bit part of it. There isn’t much debate about that. Internet use on mobile phones is growing rapidly and with the introduction of new devices, such as the iPad, that are targeted for this purpose, that trend is only going to speed up. Factor in netbooks, which function as PCs but serve a more mobile-oriented function, and it seems the days of a desktop computer are numbered.
That may be the case, but more likely we are heading to a more hybrid environment where all methods of accessing the Web are used in conjunction. Desktop PCs will continue to be around in some form, but consumers will use other means to access the Web as well, making them less dependent on their non-mobile machines than they already are.
But this revolution isn’t being fueled just by a desire to cut the cord, but also by the amazing power of these tools. In just a few short years a mobile browser has gone from being able to only display text to browsers, such as those on the iPhone and Droid, that are capable of displaying text, images, video and the full layout of the page.
In short, the mobile revolution is less about making sites that work well on mobile phones and more about making mobile phones that work well with Web sites. This is great news for Web developers as it keeps standards consistent and lets users access our sites no matter where they might be.
While there are still some heavy concerns for Web developers, including the limited speed of mobile Web access (even over 3G networks), as mobile broadband becomes more common, those fears will wane, making the existing Web even better for those using mobile devices.
It’s About the Apps
However, just because mobile browsers can display content on any Web site doesn’t make it an ideal solution. The problem is that traditional Web sites are formatted for much larger screens, requiring the user to take extra steps to view it on a mobile device, usually zooming in and scrolling around the screen.
Mobile versions of a Web site can mitigate that, making it easier to browse as well as faster to load on the limited connection. Though the burden of viewing a full site on an iPhone is not that large, having a mobile-friendly version can make your site more appealing to those who do a lot of mobile browsing.
However, according to an article by Gigaom for Businessweek, mobile browsing may be giving way to apps for specific sites and services. Already there are countless apps for Facebook and Twitter, but even some individual blogs are getting in on the game, including Mashable.
These apps provide a tight, integrated and speedy experience that can’t even be matched by a mobile-friendly site. Throw in push alerts and other notifications and it easy to see why these apps may be the way of the future. Not only are they more convenient for users, but the offer new opportunities for publishers to connect with readers.
Whether this actually comes to pass or not, especially with the growing acceptance of HTML5 for building Web-based apps, but it is easy to see why it might be very tempting.
Is It Right For You?
This leaves bloggers in a pretty strange position. Should they keep going as is, create a mobile version of their site or perhaps invest the time and money to create a mobile app? There is no right or wrong answer.
The key lies in how visitors are using your site now and in knowing your audience. If you write a blog that talks about mobile gadgets, then you probably need at least a mobile-friendly site, possibly even an app. If you write about how cell phones are evil and are destroying society, you probably shouldn’t bother.
Most sites, however, lie somewhere in the middle and have readers that will come to it from multiple sources. If you look at your traffic stats, you should be able to get a feeling for how big mobile browsing is on your site and if it is worth creating something a new version to cater to them.
GIven that, for many bloggers, creating a mobile-friendly version of the site is as easy as installing a plugin, there probably is little harm in doing so. However, if you use certain caching systems, you may find that WP Touch is incompatible, as I did.
If you don’t have a large mobile audience at this time, there probably isn’t much cause to take action. However, you definitely do want to keep an eye on the mobile market and start thinking about when might be a good time, in your niche, to make a more concerted effort.
Though there has always been a lot of variety in the way people view Web sites (browsers, operating systems, plugins, etc.) and those have always produced challenges for those building sites, we haven’t seen anything yet.
Soon enough, for a site to be successful, it will have to function on computers, phones, tablets and more. Where previously the biggest challenge was coding for IE6, soon it will be coding for all of the hardware platforms too.
The good news is that, unlike the previous challenges, this isn’t about sites breaking on one browser. Due to the power of these new tools, sites will function “good enough” so long as they don’t have features, such as Flash, that aren’t on all mobile platforms. Rather, this is about optimization and giving the best reader experience possible.
This makes sense. After all, it is much easier (and cheaper) to build new phones that work with the existing Web than to try and build a who new Web for the old phones. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we may have to tweak the engine in order to ensure that we give our visitors the best experience they can have.