This Is Why I Don’t Believe In Optimizing for Mobile Devices

By Daniel Scocco

A couple of years ago we saw the trend of “mobile optimization” emerge. People started urging us about the importance of optimizing our sites for mobile devices, about creating versions for the iPhone and other mobile phones and so on. There were even companies that created a business model around this idea.

I wrote about it, but I never really bought into it. In fact early in 2009 I had already written a post titled Do We Really Need to Optimize Our Sites for Mobile Phones?.

One year later I still defend the position that optimizing for mobile devices is not really necessary. Not because people are not using these devices to access the web. They are. But most mobile and smart phones these days work pretty much like portable computers, with fully compatible browsers. The resolution is not great yet, but we are getting there.

no-mobile-web

I got inspired to talk about this issue again after my little brother came hope with an iPod touch. Once I grabbed it to play a little I connected to our wifi spot and opened Daily Blog Tips. To my surprise the website was loading fine, and it was perfectly possible to navigate around and read all the posts. And that is an iPod touch. Imagine what you’ll be able to do with the iPad or the coming smart phones.

In other words, I don’t believe we’ll see the rise of a “mobile web”, with separate protocols and websites. I believe we’ll continue using the “traditional web,” even though we’ll certainly start using new and mobile devices to access it. Sure there will be new applications and features that mobile connectivity makes possible (e.g., Foursquare), but overall the good ol’ web will remain as the core network.

Thoughts?




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40 Responses to “This Is Why I Don’t Believe In Optimizing for Mobile Devices”

  • Arwen Taylor

    Yeah, I remember when everyone was talking about this too. I had thought about investing in some .mobi domains just in case but I think the cost of them changed my mind.

    Also, I think you can design a css stylesheet specifically for mobile browsers and use javascript or something to detect if the visitor is using a mobile device. You could then, presumably, load that stylesheet instead of the regular one.

    Anyway, I agree that there is no reason to worry about it now. Cell phone technology creators are trying to integrate cell phones with the online world so I doubt any of them are going to try and “revolutionize the industry” by deviating from what’s already working.

    🙂

  • Simon | Profit Duck

    I’ve never seen the point either, technology was bound to sort itself out for us all, and as shown above, it has. Meaning a lot less work for us and it many cases, a lot of wasted time for many web developers. Luckily I could never be bothered 😛

  • Keith

    I don’t currently use a plugin be cause I use a blackberry (which sell more devices worldwide than iPhone) and the plugins don’t seem to work well for both mobile browsers. Your site loads fine on my BB, but mine is a little slower.

  • William Womack

    I agree. Making your site compatible with mobile browsers isn’t something that you should spend your time on.

    It’s just not a big payoff for the work involved. With iphones and droids that are capable of viewing the webpage as it was meant to be viewed, and subscribing to RSS feeds, there’s really not a point.

    Besides, viewing the content on a tiny phone doesn’t have the same impact as viewing it on a computer. Psychological effect, methinks…

  • Adam Baird

    I think this really just depends on your niche. Optimizing for cell phones is becoming less and less relevant and I don’t worry about it for any of my sites, but if you have a site that’s visited by a large amount of mobile visitors…its probably something you should be very interested in doing.

  • Steve

    I installed the Mippin plugin for my blogs and am wondering if I made a mistake. It takes your RSS feed and displays it in fairly plain style on mobile devices with a few AdMob ads thrown in. Maybe I should just let the mobile device conform to my site.

  • Keith

    Turns out you were right about not optimizing. The people who will typically browse sites other than Facebook on their phone are getting devices with browsers that act like a desktop. The only thing to really stay away from is Flash.

    I’ve found my target audience who looks at my site from their phone all has advanced devices so its not an issue.

  • Ron Pereira

    I would tend to agree when you’re on a WIFI… but when connecting via wireless I have found the “WPTouch” plugin unbeatable. It loads super fast. Just Google it and you’ll find it.

  • Jorge Diaz

    It’s weird i commented on this topic but on another blog here:

    http://blogforprofit.com/blogging-tips/is-your-blog-mobile-friendly/

    I stated that all the mobile devices are rendering pages just like laptops and the iPad is going to that direction too. I think that if your traffic is solely mobile traffic (or mobile device traffic) then you need to adapt
    to that audience.

    Thanks for the post

  • BenSpark

    I disagree with this post. I use WP touch and my blog load fast and looks great on mobile phones. The formatting of the posts make things so clean and easy to read. On a tiny screen I just want to get right to the content and read it. I don’t care about the blog design or how it looks on my ipod touch. The great thing about WPtouch is that the user can determine if they want to view your blog in that way or not. So if a user is an iPad user they can see the blog in the way that you intended or they can see the WPTouch version of your site. I think hat using that simple plug in and offering users the option is better than dismissing optimization for mobile devices all together.

  • David Risley

    Optimizing for mobile is about more than just the screen. It is also about making the blog faster over non-wifi connections. It also does make the site more readable on such a small screen. Lastly, not everybody has a smartphone with a browser like Safari.

    In the end, the point is still up for debate, but I still think there are benefits to mobile themes like WPTouch that you might be overlooking.

  • Christopher

    The portable is really starting to get better and better. The fact that it’s portable is a great idea. But I’m starting to wonder if we really need that kind of access at our fingertips 24/7.

    I still don’t have a cell phone. Well, I take that back I have a pre paid cell phone that currently doesn’t have minutes on it. I get along in life just fine. I do have a couple of portable devices that I use sometimes for reading and the like but as far as staying connected, I still like to talk to people face to face.

    Just my two cents on the matter.

  • Glenn Gruber

    I think that the decision to create a mobile site has more to do with the type of interaction you want your readers to have with your content. I would agree that with simple web browsing of a blog – which is primarily a passive activity – that is not particularly design heavy, there’s little reason to redesign.

    But if you want people to transact, have complex content or if you have a lot of navigation to deal with, you may find that a redesign is much more effective. Look at sites like ESPN.com, Expedia or Amazon.com and tell me if you think they’d have the same effectiveness without being redesigned for mobile (either via mobile web or an app; personally I think the mobile web version of ESPN isn’t all that good either, but you get the point).

  • Daniel Scocco

    @BenSpark and David Risley, getting your website to load as fast as possible should be a priority even on standard connections (given that a lot more people use a dial up connection around the world than broadband). If you get that part right even mobile phones without wifi should be able to access your site relatively fast (you can test with my blog).

  • Mahmud

    all peoples are are not using this tyep of smart phone. becoz they are expensive. so.. we need to optimize our blogs for mobile device.

  • Tim Paulino

    It really depends on the top task of your visitors. Blogs are different than retail sites which are different than banking websites. Users have different tasks when visiting different sites.

    Say you want the balance on your checking account or transfer some money, you’ll probably like it if your bank has made a mobile friendly way for you to do that because it will save you time.

    Likewise if you want to know where the nearest Subway sandwich store is, you’ll like it if they make it easy for you to find locations when you use a mobile device.

    On the flip side, a blog is mainly for consuming content. As long as a blog’s design is simple enough, visitors can achieve this without needing special mobilized functionality. Given this, the mobilized web will seem less important to a blogger since it doesn’t really affect the task of their visitors.

  • Abdul Basith

    I agree with you. I am using nokia 6300 and browsing via opera mini. There is no problem on browsing normal web. And another drawback (for site owners) is when i browse mobile optimized sites (like wordpress touch) advertisements not shown. So normal web is better than mobile optimized site.

  • Jewelry Secrets

    Want to hear something funny? Your website looks better on my ipod touch than it does in my browser. On this page, in my browser, your comment numbers are cut off. All I see is part of the 5 instead of 15. But in the ipod, all the numbers show up. Go figure? 🙂

    Good article. I totally agree. Jumping on the mobi bandwagon is something I never did. And now, I’m happy for that!

  • Colby

    I was turned off by the early mobile phone web browsers even when sites were modified for mobile devices.

    The more recent phones like iphone and droid display websites almost exactly the same as you see in your desktop browsers. The pinch zoom makes it easy to navigate around and read the pages.

    Ever since I got my iphone I hate when a mobile versions of a site automatically load. I’d much rather see the regular full version and use the capabilities of the iphone browser.

  • Harrison

    I find it annoying when I am on the mobile version of a website because it only shows me that one article and it is tough to find all the links you get on a regular website.

  • Mathew Day

    Totally agree with you Daniel. I really didn’t know much about this topic, but I’m glad to see that I haven’t been missing out on something that I should have been implementing all along.

  • Antony Swans

    Well, looks like most of people here didn’t really worked with web from iPhone. How many actions do you need to access, say the first item of the left menu of this website – “Blog Design”? Even to read this item clearly you need to zoom in. Am I wrong? Optimization for mobile devices now even more actual than before. But the matter isn’t in protocols and separate websites, but – accessibility and usability. On touch screen it’s hard to click the small link, isn’t it? That’s why, mobile friendly design would have links more than 30 pixels in height and width. That’s just a care about your mobile users. If you don’t care – ok, you’re welcome to lose extra sales and profit.

    You’re right, mobile devices become better. But does anybody realize that higher resolutions on mobile phone doesn’t make sense? It will always be limited. Why? Do you imagine 1280×1024 resolution on the iPhone screen size of 2.4×4.5in? I guess you’ll need special eye-glasses to see all the advantages of the picture 🙂 Mobile screen size won’t be bigger. iPad isn’t a mobile phone – you can’t put it into your pocket 🙂

    Good approach for mobile optimization – using the same XHTML code but applying different CSS depending on screen resolution.
    If someone interested in this approach, there are dedicated services – see MobilizeToday.com as an example.

  • Kristoffer

    I agree with you Daniel, and I have a few more points.

    I have some problems with my eyes, that means I have to have everything magnified. Right now I have a nice program called ZoomText started and it magnify the screen. Anyway, I have also an iPod touch. Something that’s really confusing me when browsing sites optimized for mobile devices is that you can not zoom in using the built in zoom functionality in iPod touch.
    That’s one thing that do I hate mobile themes.

    Another thing. It doesn’t take that much more time to load pages on the iPod touch.

    And the mobile themes are so boring. Normal websites are much more customize able.

    So either place a button to turn mobile themes off, or don’t develop them in my opinion.

  • Eric C

    I’ll keep my answer short. No, you don’t need to optimize.

    This has to do with the whole trend hopping nature of the web, but for a blog, it should already be simple enough to access on an Iphone.

  • William Womack

    another point to consider is the reality that most people who don’ have smart phones that view the internet in it’s full capacity don’t use them. And if they do it’d for searches in google and watching youtube vids.

  • Mike Girouard

    I think I will defer to the leading expert in mobile web research, PPK (warning, very strong language):

    http://www.quirksmode.org/blog/archives/2010/02/the_iphone_obse.html

    1. iPhone/iTouch are not the only devices on the market. In fact, they are a minority.

    2. If your website gets a lot of mobile attraction from these devices, you are also a minority.

  • Grant

    This is a topic that I’ve been debating about for some time now. I agree to the point that I’ve also felt there’s no need for another version of my site, as it’s viewable on smart phone browsers now anyway.

    The other side of the discussion though is regarding apps for iPhones, optimizing and developing them to reach the same audience, but have a slightly different set of information/services available.

    So I guess the ‘Should we optimize for Mobile’ debate is two-fold really, but in terms of what is said here, I do agree.

    Thanks for the good post, as always.

  • poch

    I don’t believe in it either even if it’s the most popular.
    It’s the most malware-prone too.

  • Bojan

    I agree with you Daniel. I do not really see the point of making special templates and special designs for mobile phones when in reality the phones themselves are improving daily and the resolution the mobile browsers is better and better each day.

  • tusky

    it’s important to make the distinction between optimizing your blog vs putting it on an app. While optimizing doesn’t make much sense in this day an age, putting your blog on an app has many benefits like exposure on itunes, ability to access content online/offline, extra ad revenue, etc
    Having said that, iphone browser is ok to lookup something I need, but it’s too much hassle zooming in/out to simply browse content to kill fun. For that, most iphone owners use apps.

    I think optimizing is dead, but mobile apps are just the beginning

  • Nicole Simon

    Considering that you do not need to optimize for a mobile because ipod touch looks fine is a very simple view of the world.

    Obviously you do not use mobile very much, because yes those iphones and co do display it great, as does my little pda and even my nokia: I have to scroll around a bit to see everything, but I could see your layout.

    But the point is: I do not want to see them when I am on mobile except when I choose to – because on mobile very often you just do not have the speed to wait for 1-4 megs to download a page. (think I am kidding? try going for some pages on a normal mobile).

    If you do not believe in it, you should take a guess from google: every mobile page from search is mobil-googleized. Meaning that unecessary parts of your page get eliminated, collapsed and more.

    After a short time people learn “go direct to page, slow loading. go through google: quick loading and I get there fast to the point on the page where I thought I’d find it”.

  • ppc tips

    We’re all going to need glasses. Those tiny ads are nearly useless.

  • Web Marketing Tips

    Sounding very good to me and I am sure many bloggers will stop worrying about their mobile presence after reading your post.

  • l8rm8e

    10 years ago the best advice was to keep your pages lean and clean, cater for low bandwidth AND low resolution screens … or arbitrarily limit your audience.

    A mobile device usually comes with a low resolution and the price of bandwidth for mobile devices is arguably a rip-off.

    That advice still stands firm.

  • Kent @ Leawo

    In my opinion, the optimization for mobile devices depends on the mobile service varying by countries. For example, Chinamobile introduces WAP sites, a compact version of the normal WEB sites, to reduce bandwidth usage, lower the cost dependent on data flow, achieve fast web browsing in 2G network and match the small screen of most cellphones. Besides, though nowadays, we can access website on mobile devices as we normally do on PC, there are still differences. For example, iPod/iPhone doesn’t intend to support Adobe Flash. That means, your flash sites will look dazzling on PC, but totally disastrous on iPod/iPhone. In this sense, optimizing websites for mobile devices is necessary about improving user experience or at least making them comfortable. This is the exact reason for doing it.

  • Taneya

    As an avid Droid user, I would have to respectfully disagree with this post. As others have mentioned, there are many apps available that make it quite easy to modify your site to the mobile format. When I visit your site on my phone for example, all I want to do is read the blog posts and have access to a few key pages (About, Contact, Categories, Archives for example). With a program like WPTouch, it takes about 10 minutes to set-up and customize and it delivers your content to me in a way that is streamlined. I don’t use my smartphone for websites b/c I want to enjoy the aesthetics. I use my smartphone to access websites for the information. So, I think it’s important to present that information in the most streamlined format possible especially since it’s so easy to do!

  • MArk

    How the heck can you switch back to the normal site? I detest mobi sites

  • SEO Marc

    These mobile phones are being used to access the net more often. It is not about optimizing the way our site looks but making sure our “ads” show up and the affiliate links work. Mobile does not track “cookies” nor reads standard Adsense (you need mobile Adsense).

    So how can money be made via mobile??

    Hopefully the affiliate companies will cross breed their links and be optimized for both mobile & standard net access without us having to change code around and such.

    – Marc

  • Mobile Web Expert

    I’ve just tried this site out on my iPhone 4 and it took almost a minute to load.

    Despite the long wait, the experience wasn’t that bad once the page had loaded. I didn’t have to zoom in and I only had to scroll vertically – which was good. After having to aim very carefully, I managed to click the intended side link. But given that it took so long to load, I wouldn’t visit your site again on my iPhone, nor visit any of the linked sites.

    The site does actually render better than most desktop sites I come across on my iPhone – which is a plus for your site but, from my experience, most sites are much worse.

    Also, even if your site is of an acceptable standard on iPhones (and possibly Blackberrys) – what about everyone else on ‘normal’ phones?

  • Torkild

    In my mind a mobile optimised site is required in most instances.

    I don’t like reading a newspaper through a letterbox and in most cases this is what you do when browsing a normal site on a smartphone.
    Also having to zoom and scroll up-down-left-right you are likely to get lost or at least frustrated because you can’t find what you want quickly.

    And as a user you would not want to pay for the downloaded data you don’t need on a mobile (not everyone have an ‘all-you-can-eat’ data package) and you want it to load fast and reliably when you are out and about and no wi-fi!

    In front of a computer you are in a ‘Browser’ mode and have a bit of extra time but on the phone you are ‘on-the-go’ and want the information without all the ads etc.

    Sure thing some users may want to view the main pages which in that case it is simply to have a button to allow the users to switch. Simples!

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