Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Multi-device browser...idea #37/100...

Following some recent research, I have a whole bunch of things to say about the topic of mobile websites, so I'll be posting quite heavily on this topic in the coming weeks. My first posting is about testing on different devices....

Ouch! That's a painful topic....

All mobile developers know about the grief of designing for lots of devices. I've long contended that operators have a role to play in making this problem easier to cope with. I see that they are attending all the relevant forums, like W3C meetings and so forth, but what are they doing to deliver solutions?

Notwithstanding the fact that many operators seemingly aren't that interested in websites being mobile-accessible, except their own, they are in a prime position to move matters forward. The issue of tools is something that operators just don't seem to understand. That's why there are very few tools available for testing that are not vendor-specific (i.e. from the vendors).

What we need is a freely available open-source browser that:

1. Can simulate the user experience on as many devices as possible
2. Simulates CC/PP (UAProf) presentation to the server
3. Should dynamically tell us which phones are the most popular in the market, so that we can prioritise testing

Of course, hard-nosed testers will tell us that there's no substitute for testing on the real devices. Simulators aren't 100% accurate. That's true, but as things stand, mobile site design is more of a specialised craft than a commodity activity, unlike regular website design. There's a lot we can do before we get to real-device testing. Although, I think we should be aiming for a solution that more or less renders device testing obsolete.

There are many other approaches to this problem, but we have to start somewhere. In my opinion, operators should be collectively responsible for providing certain tools and guidelines. Whilst there has been a lot of effort in standardising on markup languages, there is little concerted effort to standardise on design approaches. The latter is actually what matters.

Device vendors should provide the appropriate "plug-ins" for their devices, so that the browser is always up-to-date. This should be a contractual deliverable that the operators insist on. They are in a position to make such demands. Vendors would be forced to insist on the same deliverables from third parties (e.g. Opera) so that all possible browser experiences are included.

It is my suggestion that the device browser should be an extension of Firefox, as this is already open source and extensible. It would be very efficient to simply switch views from desktop to device.

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