This week I’m getting to sink my teeth into one of my big priorities for the year: building mobile websites.
Yes, websites and not apps. I’d love to be building phone apps as well, but for now in the interest of speed we’re going with Web pages before apps. (Not that we’re not working on apps either, that’s just a separate topic.)
The good news for most Web designers is that building basic mobile websites is easy: Just write really simple HTML. You can use all the PHP you want since it’s server-side (insert also ASP, Django, your server-side secret weapon of choice). Ems are your friend in mobile Web design: Yes, you finally have to actually use them.
As you can see, nothing fancy, but they look pretty, and they work on pretty much every mobile browser we tried them on, smartphone or no.
These were also a bit of R and D for the one I really want to build, which is in progress now: a mobile, location-aware version of our potholes map.
This one is a lot more technically complex, as you might imagine. And as soon as I started researching and testing, I hit a big snag: BlackBerries.
Location awareness in the browser? No problem on iPhones and Android, as long as the phone has GPS. Not so on most BlackBerries.
So that makes three dead-ends today. I figured I could at least download the BlackBerry simulator and figure out what type of site I COULD make work on a BlackBerry with the Google Static Maps API. (This would certainly work, but no moving the point once it’s geocoded, which would be an issue for our purposes)
Oops, the simulator is for Windows only. Does RIM really think there’s only a few Web developers using Macs? Is it even a majority using Windows?
So I’ll just download the simulator on my Virtual Box and run it from there, right? Only if I want to spend 5 minutes waiting for the simulator to actually run, only to give me a connection error and not show any sites when I DO get the browser running.
I. Give. Up.
So can Web developers afford to ignore BlackBerry? Well, not probably not completely, but luckily the number of BlackBerry browser users is heading the in the right direction.
Comscore reported in December that from September 2009 to Dec. 2009 RIM browser market share fell by one percentage point, while mobile Safari was up 1.2 percentage points. Google mobile browser share was up 2.7 percentage points. Yes, RIM still had 41.6% of the smartphone marketshare, but that’s not so much more than iPhones and Google phones combined: 30.5% in December, and certainly still going up.
And my (admittedly unscientific) research with BlackBerry users in our newsroom seemed to indicate that people with BlackBerries aren’t as interested in Web usage as their Google- and iPhone-toting colleagues. They don’t seem to expect the same degree of neato interface/experience.
In any case, our options for mobile potholes:
1) Build two mobile sites, one for iPhones and Google, and another for BlackBerries. Do you want to build 2 sites for everything? Me neither.
2) Build for the browsers that work (OK, not fair, but it’s not like the Google Maps Javascrip API is new), on the theory that you’re offering the people who DO care the best experience you can, and that the number of people with access to the best features is rising all the time. And maybe BlackBerry will get its act together.
Neither are great, but for now I think I have to opt for 2. Sorry, BlackBerry friends! But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Am I way off base on the “BlackBerry users aren’t after great Web experiences” theory?