I’m not sure who said “Never complain, never explain” (Disraeli? Ford? Google’s not helping much), but it sure does apply to me, as I never heed the advice.
Today I posted the following on Twitter without thinking much about it:
“There is no Mobile Web. There is only The Web, which we view in different ways. There is also no Desktop Web. Or Tablet Web. Thank you.”
I certainly didn’t expect the enormous amount of retweets, which hopefully means that most people understood what I meant. But some didn’t, or didn’t agree with me. Which is a good thing, but only if my point is clear. So allow me to explain.
Most sites on the web are not built with specific mobile use-cases in mind. However, millions of people access these sites every day through mobile devices. They access a “normal” (whatever that means) website through their “mobile” device. In these cases, the presentation of the content on mobile devices is potentially important. As are the intrinsic characteristics of this content on the mobile platform; take image size as an example. Manufacturers cater to the users of “non-mobile” websites on mobile devices via things like zoom, which although inconsistent across devices, makes viewing most websites on a smartphone bearable. Developers can do their part by adjusting the served content or the presentation.
That said, simply adjusting the presentation of content or pieces of content on a website does not, in my opinion, constitute a “mobile website”. It’s a website for which the developers have considered the users of mobile devices and adjusted certain things accordingly.
As the venerable Thomas Fuchs points out, there are specific mobile use cases and thus mobile-specific websites or web apps. I agree. By the same token, there are websites and web apps which were designed with solely the desktop in mind (and oftentimes with a certain browser in mind). Yet we don’t speak of the “Desktop Web” when referring to these apps. Ironically, that’s exactly what we do with mobile.
To be honest, I can think of a few, but not many use cases of web sites or apps which are or should be exclusively mobile. It seems like the Mobile Web allows us to revisit all of the talk of inclusion, progressive enhancement and accessibility from years ago.
Much of this is semantics, I’m sure. I use the word “mobile” in my own job title, which obviously borders on hypocrisy. Why? Because if people understand the term this way, it’s easier for them to understand that part of my job is to consider users of mobile devices when doing design consulting for clients. So I use the term the way they understand it. It’s just not in line with how I see the Web personally.
Many developers also consider desktop browsers. And text browsers. And screen readers. And possibly print. Or e-books. Or whatever. Because the Web is about universally accessible structured content. Which data you get and use and in what form will depend on your device and your circumstances. Your context, if you are so inclined. And that will constantly be changing.
So maybe it’s a semantic distinction and I’m simply exaggerating like the American I am. But as long as there are developers selling and building completely separate mobile websites or iPhone websites or iPad websites where well-designed universal websites would suffice, it’s not only a semantic distinction.