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

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?
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

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 www.zdnet.com from a mobile Web browser you will get redirected to ZDNet mobile -- m.zdnet.com. 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 m.zdnet.com
  • HTC Nexus One/Incredible, Android 2.1: Redirects to m.zdnet.com
  • 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?

Editorial standards