I was in a debate the other day over mobile support, feature sets and the Mobile Web as a whole. Alas, an ideological impasse arose—an impasse that got me thinking.
There is a lot of chatter about the Mobile Web lately. It's totally en vogue, and we finally have the devices that make browsing the web via mobile worthwhile and enjoyable. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Thank you, Android.
It's an exciting time, much more so than six years ago, when I worked extensively in the mobile space. It sucked six years ago. Content is now everywhere, and we are (finally) able to devour it from anywhere. The problem in discussing the Mobile Web, however, is that people think about it (and its users) in the same way they think about users browsing via PC. It's that very point of difference, I believe, which was at the heart of our impasse.
At a root level I believe that premium mobile devices should get premium experiences. To be more precise: different devices, different solutions. An experience on an iPhone or Android shouldn't be limited because lower grade mobile browsers can't handle it. (Please note, I'm saying experience, NOT content.) People who drive Porsches get a better diving experience than people who drive Hondas, and I'm fine with that. Everyone of a legal age should surely be allowed to drive—access to content, in this case—but not everyone gets a Porsche. And yes, I like German cars.
But the argument is deeper than content accessibility across devices. That should be a given. Content should be universal. The way in which you experience that content, however, should be tailored to you based on the device used and the user behaviors inherent with it.
The Mobile Web is fundamentally different than PC-based browsing (as are user behaviors and expectations). Yet people tend to form opinions on mobile based on the falsehood that they are one in the same, something some are finding hard to grasp. Some still have no problem opining on the subject matter even if they spend no time whatsoever browsing the web via mobile. To be blunt, opinions rooted in comment trolling and blogger punditry, rather than real-life experience, are of little meaning. Especially when it comes to a field that is still emerging.
The iPhone, like it or not, has fundamentally changed the way people think and browse mobile based content. The millions upon millions of marketing dollars Apple has spent (and continues to spend) have taught the world how to swipe and pinch. They've introduced the world to the "premium" way to browse the Mobile Web. Take away fundamental browsing behaviors and expectations from an iPhone user, and you have a frustrated iPhone user. Simple.
Now a BlackBerry or Android user wouldn't be the wiser in this case: different device, different behaviors and expectations. But there is surely a better way to design a BlackBerry experience with its trackball, small screen space and limited font choices. And I have. And it's worthy of its own solution. The same holds true for Android.
Tailoring content to user behaviors and expectations innate in each device just makes sense to me.
The case for a limited experience, or a "one solution for all" remedy, reminds me of a lunch spot up the street from Firstborn, called Amish Market. They sell a little of everything: pizza, sushi, pot roast, hoagies and groceries—all of it, on a good day, average.
If you create an experience that is the same for everyone all you are doing is creating an average solution. In some situations, average is all that may be necessary. That's life. But I don't like average. And I certainly don't want "average" to become status quo.
Will this mean more work? Sure...marginal, in the grand scheme of things. But the argument for "one solution for all" isn't about what's right for the user. It's really an argument for less work.
Dave Snyder is an associate creative director at Firstborn.
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