The Web's Mobile Future

August 27, 2012

by Web Programmer Brandon Edmark

Do you surf the Internet on your phone? If so, you’re not alone. Marketing research company Nielsen reported that by the end of last year, almost half of US mobile phone users owned a smartphone. The powerful Internet browsers and fast connection speeds of current smartphones are encouraging people to use the Internet more on the go. According to the global Web analytics company StatCounter, mobile Internet use has doubled from year to year, climbing from less than 1 percent of total Internet use in 2009 to almost 9 percent in the beginning of 2012.

As the format of the web changes, the nature of the web is changing as well. Current mobile web browsers accommodate desktop-centric websites by letting the user zoom in and out on specific elements of the page; however, many users find this cumbersome, especially with complex websites. Thus, websites that cater specifically to mobile devices are becoming common.

Several years ago, most mobile-friendly websites were completely separate from their desktop counterparts, and only large organizations could afford the extra time and effort involved in coordinating multiple sites. However, new advancements in web technology have made it possible for a website’s layout to react dynamically to the size of the user’s screen. Some websites can have a responsive layout integrated easily, especially if they were built using the recommended techniques of the last few years. Older sites may need a complete overhaul to support mobile layouts. Still, the new method of dynamically adjusting a site’s layout to suit mobile browsers results in websites that are much easier to build and maintain than before.

The question remains: what makes a website mobile-friendly? First, the website layout must fit in the width of a mobile device, so that the user can navigate the site without scrolling horizontally. The font size should be large enough to read on a phone’s smaller screen. Menus that fit in a row on the desktop layout may fall into multiple columns. Interactive elements such as links and buttons must be large enough that the user can easily press them on a touchscreen. Most importantly, the primary content of the site should be visually emphasized. For example, websites for businesses that benefit from walk-in traffic should focus on information that mobile users would find helpful, such as special offers, business hours and phone numbers.

As mobile phones become a crucial Web browsing environment for many, mobile-friendly websites become more important. Websites that provide an optimal layout for smaller devices and emphasize content for users on the go will find greater success in the Web’s mobile future.