Mobile websites…or not?

Twitter has been buzzing about Jakob Nielsen’s latest Alertbox newsletter, in which he says:

“To solve the problems [users experience on mobile devices], websites should provide special mobile versions.”

My initial thought was that it makes sense in some cases. This is from the perspective of corporate, not e-commerce, websites, because this is where my experience lies.

Does it depend on audience need?

While mobile users may wish for the same experience as other users, for some audiences (such as investors) it comes down to wanting access to business-critical information as quickly as possible.

If this is via a simple site with limited navigation, then surely the minimal investment makes sense? An example is the Rolls-Royce dedicated mobile site, which has been around for some years.

Accessible websites already cater for mobiles

However, I’m not an expert in this area and it’s been interesting to read others’ opinions, especially in relation to accessibility. A particularly good article was posted by Iheni (and she should know, because she IS an expert), who basically said absolutely not:

“To me this just extends the problems of walled gardens for users and leads developers down the road of additional and unnecessary work.”

She goes on to highlight the overlap between the W3C’s Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBP) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), as discussed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). If a website is accessible, by default it should be practically device independent too.

Corporate websites have more pressing issues

So, if companies’ sites complied to accessibility best practice, in theory mobile users would have fewer problems. I now wonder if some businesses might think that providing a separate site for mobiles would relieve them of some of the responsibility of creating more accessible websites overall?

Although as Graham Charlton at Econsultancy says, perhaps they should ‘improve the usability of their main website[s] before even thinking about mobile’.

I think this debate will run and run, and I’m going to follow it with interest.

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