Mobile web design obstacles

Many people think that mobile web design will become as popular as the desktop web design. They speak about huge markets and the potential for revenue, letting money cloud their minds. Companies race to invent new mobile devices with high-resolution displays, faster processors and "unseen" user interfaces. Apple created the iPhone and the need for more responsive touch-screen interfaces. But the technological progress didn't changed people much. Here I'll describe, why I'm skeptical to its evolution.

Too many stakeholders

There are too many stakeholders involved in the decisions affecting the mobile market. Participants are large organizations that chase high profits per employee at the expense of their customers' satisfaction: telecom operators, mobile device inventors, operating system developers, app developers, designers, browser makers, advertisers, psychologists, sociologists, researchers, entrepreneurs. Decisions are subject to many forces and interest battles.

Lack of standardization

The interest battles led to a high dissociation and the lack of common ground and standardization. Standards aren't interesting, because they decrease profitability and restrict the participants. But even if there were standards, their adoption would take at least a couple of years.

Too many constraints

The market is oversaturated with mobile devices, limited by many factors: screen size, material, handling, computing power, technology support, battery life. This makes it impossible to have the same user experience everywhere. The result is limited visibility and low reach. These two properties will complicate further progress in the mobile area. There are more mobile than desktop browsers and they all use different operating systems. The same browser on a different OS behaves as a different browser, which makes development harder. It's better to choose the target device first and then the browser to support. If we develop for few devices, we can keep the code base small and unambiguous.

To design only for the latest version of a mobile OS limits the audience to people with high standard of living—the remaining 95% of the population aren't considered. I would think twice before calling that "design". Design must solve problems, but in a way that it doesn't create inequality or separate people ideologically. Recessions prove this as people won't rush to buy expensive new devices.

Too high operator taxes

Telecom operators have relative high internet taxes where no wireless access is possible. They can range quite a bit, so users must be cautious. Using a simple simulator to open a 12kB website showed that an operator will charge €0.20 on the average. When you open many and heavy sites your bill can quickly go out of control.

Usability difficulties

Typing a domain name in the mobile web browser isn't convenient on all mobile devices. Interaction with the website even less so. If the device doesn't have a touch-screen, we'll need to use the built-in joystick to move through different links and buttons. Imagine pushing the "3" button on your phone three times until you are able to enter "f" in an input form. From a usability standpoint, this makes long use less likely. Few websites will justify such an effort.


Due to these characteristics, I look at mobile web design as highly experimental, so I won't concern with it in the near future.