Not so mobile OS specific

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This expands a brief conversation I had with a coworker recently regarding how to go about building a mobile version of a website and how that website should function.

Web based iPhone apps are a hot topic the last few weeks as they offer a way to skirt the App Store approval process and with Mobile WebKit’s extensive HTML5 and CSS3 support, a lot of functionality beyond a traditional website is available. This is a great approach to apps specific to the iPhone. Key there being apps. Building a website that mimics the behavior of native apps is reasonable when that website is supposed to be used as an application – launched directly from the home screen and offering a specific function.

My initial thought was a website that is meant for desktop consumption first and mobile second (not a mobile web app) should function consistent to that website’s branding whether viewed on iPhone OS, WebOS, Android or any other. Not the OS branding. We don’t build websites that act like Windows application when viewed from a browser on that OS and then act like a Mac application when view from OS X, so why would we do this for mobile? It seems like a step backward in being browser/OS agnostic.

Yet, there is a certain amount of user satisfaction and wow that comes with a website that magically acts extra charming on your device. On a case by case basis, I could see an argument for building mobile OS specific versions of a website so long as a generic one is still available. The importance may be more in the sort of users and how they use it along with technical aspects like making a faithful reproduction of OS functionality and ensuring the wrong OS doesn’t end up getting mimicked (ending up with an iPhone OS themed website on your Palm Pre likely isn’t desirable as that OS has its own conventions).

Waffling again.


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