Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

Summary: One of the most highly charged topics of the ZDNet redesign is how it's rendered on mobile devices. iPhone and Android browsers get Mobile ZDNet by default -- and this gets users worked into a lather. Are mobile sites really that bad?


You may have noticed that we've given ZDNet a fresh coat of paint this week. As part of the redesign, ZDNet mobile also got a refresh. Any redesign, especially to a site as deep as ZDNet, is bound to have some bumps along the way, that comes with the territory and is to be expected.

Surprisingly, one of the most highly charged topics of the redesign is how ZDNet is rendered on mobile devices. For example, when visiting from a mobile Web browser you will get redirected to ZDNet mobile -- The site, an optimized version of the full ZDNet site, is presented to anyone browsing from the iPhone OS (i.e. iPad, iPhone or iPod touch) or Android OS (i.e. Incredible, Nexus One, Droid, etc.)

Our own mobile gadgeteer, Matt Miller notes which mobile devices get served which version of ZDNet:

  • Nokia N900: Has a desktop-class browser.
  • Palm Pre Plus: Redirects to
  • HTC Nexus One/Incredible, Android 2.1: Redirects to
  • Google Android Skyfire 2.0 browser: Serves up full ZDNet, like the Nokia N900.
  • T-Mobile HD2 Windows Mobile IE Mobile browser: Works like a champ with the full site showing up just fine and is FAST.
  • T-Mobile HD2 Windows Mobile IE Opera Mobile 9.7 browser: Works like a champ with the full site showing up just fine and is FAST.

The problem is the mobile sites are almost universally hated and a vocal group of opponents get up in arms about the issue. The feedback from iPhone and iPad users was quick and exacting. Take for example this email from an industry colleague that I've known for a while:

With respect to WordPress why can't they treat the iPhone as a computer running Safari and give all the other less capable mobile devices the crippled internet. Steve introduced the iPhone as being able to display the full internet but someone in their great wisdom decided to lump us in with the less capable mobile devices... I WILL NOT visit sites on my iPhone or iPad which force me into a Mobile RSS type presentations.

A comment by Mike Zander called us on the carpet for even considering serving a mobile Web site to the iPad:

Could you please tell your IT team to take the ipad off the list of devices classified as mobile browsers? It can view the full site, and being forced to go to the crappy mobile site is a pain in the u know what. And that link to view the full site does not work. I know you guys are supposed to be techies and what not but not knowing that the ipad works with the full site is a gross oversight. This is really too simple of a thing to make such a big mistake like that, it may call into question the actual tech know how of your IT department.

While I agree that mobile sites have their down sides (no comments, etc.) they're served for a reason -- namely a faster browsing experience on mobile devices.

Most mobile sites, including ZDNet's, have a ripcord that you can pull to take you back to the full site. In our case, clicking the "View Full Site" link (pictured) on the bottom left area of ZDNet mobile takes you to the full HTML version.

Even have to click on a "full site" link is irksome to many because it's an extra step and the link can be difficult to find. It can also be annoying when the setting isn't stored in a cookie, requiring a click on the full site link on every visit.

So I ask you, fair reader, what's your take on mobile versions of Web sites? Love 'em, or hate 'em? What are some specifically good or bad examples?

Topics: Software Development, Browser, Mobility

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  • You forgot Symbian

    On my Nokia E72 I get the mobile version as well, using the default browser as well as Opera Mobile 10 beta. Full page view is not displayed properly. But I don't really care - my phone is primarily for email and IM, and that's what it does, way better than an iPhone or Android could ever do. I don't access websites more than once or twice a week from my phone, as opposed to tens of mails and tens of IM conversations (plus GPS and an excellent camera).
    Daniel Breslauer
    • Speaking of bumps from the drastic unannounced changes to ZDNet.. do I subscribe for email notifications when somebody replies, like I used to be able to do extremely easily by simply clicking the link at the bottom of a talkback? And why on Earth does it open up two separate forms (that look exactly the same) whenever I try to reply, now?
  • Hate 'em

    Droid does full web sites. :)
    • Hate is a weak word

      Late to the party but I experienced a mobile disaster just now.
      My company implemented a mobile site just a few days ago, "no big deal" I thought.

      I have been using microsoft tags as part of my Real Estate marketing strategy for awhile now.
      Since the genius's on high now force all mobile browsers to the crippled site, all of my url tags are useless.

      This is bad, real bad.
  • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    I agree with the responses that call you on the carpet for including the iPad. Has anyone there actually used an iPad? The screen resolution is 1024 x 768, quite adequate for a good experience with the regular non-mobile site layout. Meanwhile the mobile site presented on the iPad's larger, higher-rez screen looks grotesquely out-of-place. Please remove the iPad from the redirect immediately. Thank you!
    • iPad Indistinguishable from iPhone for Current Site Software?

      @crosscourier I had the impression that there was no conscious decision to serve the mobile site to the iPad. I think it's just that the iPad uses the iPhone/iPod Touch operating system, so it gets the same version of the site that these devices do. The question is whether there is some way for the site to determine that it is not one of the smaller devices, but an iPad that is being used, and to serve up the full site instead.
      • It is different

        @CFWhitman The browser identifier on the iPad is different from the iPhone and iPod touch. So They can differentiate them, they were just being lazy. But they fixed it so no more bashing necessary.
      • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

        Actually, the iPad browser ID string reports itself as an iPad. Check out the website using an iPad to see that a website can be designed to recognize the iPad browser. ZDnet's website designs could (and should) be setup the same way.
  • RE: What Mike Zander said

    I second that wholeheartedly!!! Give us iPadders the whole enchilada, OK? Please.
  • It's About Usability, Pure and Simple

    I love a mobile site, if it has all the functionality I need. All the fluff has been cut out. It's even more efficient and effective than a full site.

    If, on the other hand, the important functionality is missing, especially where my favorite use cases are affected, then I'm unhappy.

    I think the [simple minded] tend to freak out when you change things. Understandably so, since there is a mental cost to having to re-learn an interface or to familiarize yourself to a new paradigm.

    Change every now again not only keeps us on our toes mentally, but it also helps us understand the subject more fully by showing it in a new perspective.
    • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

      If you wish those, request the RSS feed to the site that way you get the condensed information without the FLUFF and let the user who prefers the look similar to a newspaper have it that way. As for ZDNet, now they give us a Mobile site with pictures for our desktops as well.
  • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    I don't do it often, but I usually hate them.

    Why not make the first page of the mobile site a choice to go mobile or full? That way you don't have to hunt for the button/link to get to the full site.
  • Thank you

    Mobile versions of websites mostly suck and zdnet's version is among those. With a browser that is capable to render the full site (iphone and iPad), whats the point of the redirect (and no, speed is not a good enough reason)? Gone are the days of super slow and sluggish internet speeds especially when rendered by inadequate browsers, then I could see a reason for the redirect. But now-a-days, every1 is so hot about apple shaking up the smartphone browser game that they are churning out some pretty decent smartphone browsers to try and compete. I remember the horrible pre-iphone days when we lived like the equivalent of cave ppl to view internet from so called smart phones (ne1 remember palm treo?!?). But gone are those days so don't subject us to those horrible sites again pls. Its worse than being locked in a small box. Btw- thanks for the shout out. My iPad is rendering the full site in all its glory (took you guys 3days- but I much appreciate the speedy action, as I love me some zdnet and would've hated to have to leave you guys b/c of crappy internet experience).
    • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

      @mikezander "Gone are the days of super slow and sluggish internet speeds"

      Not if you're on EDGE.
      • EDGE not as bad

        @josegaldamez We may have been spoiled by the snappy moving 3G (going to DSL from cable ne1?). But i remembered my iPhone 2G days (go figure, not that long ago) and compared to the experience on my Treo, the browsing was a giant leap in evolution. And it was pretty snappy. Enter 3G- now EDGE browsing on the 2G seems almost backward.
  • RE: RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    I see this as an opportunity for ZDNet - no, really. Since most people - including yours truly - do not like the mobile websites (and like others I'm wondering why in the heck the iPhone/ iPod/ iPad and Android devices are redirected to the mobile site) and since the trend is turning to devices capable of running apps why not bite the bullet and develop an app for the iPhone and Android devices and get firsthand experience with developing an app for each platform and the approval process for each.
  • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    This is a golden opportunity for ZDNet to develop an app for the iPhone/ iPod/ iPad and Android platforms. Seriously this would give ZDNet firsthand experience in the development and approval process for each...

    Oh and the redesign for this site is so far pretty buggy...
  • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    I appreciate a mobile site when surfing on my trusty old Palm OS 5 device (Treo 680).
    Non-techie Talk
  • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    Full sized websites have several options to viewed on a mobile devices, 1) the website show entirely on the dipslay but the images & text are very small 2) letterbox method where you have scroll around to view the website but the text & image are readable. I have both a Motorola phone on Verizon I can only view website for mobile & WAP and iPod Touch which I can view most websites (except content with Flash). I like viewing mobile website that are properly created that aren't missing content or images
  • RE: Mobile Web sites, love 'em or hate 'em?

    I guess I would fall into the love'em category. I have a feature phone on Verizon with that awful teleca browser. Mobile sites are a savior when trying to browse on that thing. It gives you more or less just text pages which is a lot easier to read on the phone. Full paged sites usually have problems on it and scrolling is a less than enjoyable experiencing for navigating through it.
    Loverock Davidson