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Opinion: Flashy vs. What Really Works for Mobile Devices

By Michael Gartenberg
August 27, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Oh, it was so seductive, the way Apples early iPhone ads built anticipation for the device by trumpeting the arrival of the real Internet on a cell phone. Nokia has headed in the same direction, with a full HTML browser on its N series of phones. As someone who spends a lot of time using all sorts of mobile devices, I think it might be time to step on the brakes. Is it really the best approach to give us the real Net on a mobile device?

Ive noticed something about technology that I will grossly oversimplify by presenting two extremes: Stuff that wows people in a product demonstration often ends up being difficult to use effectively in the real world, and stuff that elicits yawns sometimes works great day to day.

Sadly, in our industry, the demos that wow are praised and the rest are ignored. Marketers have an incentive to include the wow factor at the expense of usability, since reviewers respond to flash and have less interest in digging into the real issues that real people will encounter in the real world.

In the case of mobile Internet experiences, the sad state of most approaches makes us all the more susceptible to the superficial glitz of getting a full desktopĀ­like HTML experience on a mobile device. But do we really have to choose between a stripped-down version of the desktop experience and the false promise of the real thing? Clearly, theres a need for something more.

Consider the everyday situation of trying to read a newspaper online while on the go. On a device like a BlackBerry, enter the Web address http://mobile.nytimes.com. Spend some time there, and read some of the articles. Next, using a device like an iPhone that has a full HTML browser, go to the full-bore NYTimes.com site. Again, get the full experience. Finally, on either device, enter the URL www.NYTimesriver.com.

The mobile New York Times site looks sexy. And that full-HTML NYTimes.com site is reassuringly familiar because of your desktop experience. But read an article on either of them, and youll spend a lot of time clicking through to the end.

NYTimesriver.com, on the other hand, presents things in a nonflashy way, but notice how easy it is to scroll through that river of news. Click on an article, and it shows up in its entirety, no clickthrough needed. Every screen on the site is formatted for mobile devices, so you dont have to scroll in several directions to see whats there. NYTimesriver.com represents the third way.



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