What is a Smartphone?
There is some confusion here. The Wikipedia definition says ‘A smartphone is a mobile phone offering advanced capabilities, often with PC-like functionality’. Under this definition Nokia introduced the first smartphone in 1996. Nokia’s example was followed by Ericsson, Blackberry, Samsung and many other phone developers. The screen size on these phones is usually only half the size of the phone. These smartphones have limited or no Internet browsing capabilities.

Apple introduced a new class of smartphones with the introduction of the iPhone in 2006. On the iPhone the screen size is the full size of the phone which is now large enough to browse the Internet. Apple equipped the iPhone with Mobile Safari, a sophisticated Internet browser that makes browsing on the iPhone possible. We could refer to these phones as ‘Internet Smartphones’. Over the last two years Blackberry, Palm, T-Mobile and others have rushed to create their own Internet Smartphones but the iPhone remains the undisputed market leader in this market segment. We expect that Internet Smartphones will become the standard for customers worldwide and that the traditional smartphones are phased out eventually. This website focuses entirely on Internet smartphones.

What is a Mobile Website?
A Mobile Website is a website that is optimized for display on an Internet smartphone. The screen resolution of the iPhone is 320×480 and most other Internet smartphones have resolutions close to this. Therefore a mobile website is a website that is optimized on a 320×480 screen. Mobile websites should not scroll horizontally within a page. Scrolling vertically is fine. This means that elements should not be placed horizontally next to each other, but should be placed vertically. The amount of information on a mobile webpage should be reduced to the most essential information that is displayed on the corresponding webpage viewed on a desktop computer. In general, images should be displayed at a width of 320 pixels for best viewing results. Last but not least, your content needs to be as few kilobytes as possible. Mobile phones are used on the road and Internet access may be fairly slow. The fewer kilobytes you need to transfer to view a page, the faster it loads and the better the user experience. Ideally, mobile sites are constructed as ‘single page’ sites with javascript calls to move ‘from page to page’. This means that you do not need to transfer HTML headers and content files for each page load. As a result the pages load much faster on the mobile phone. The mobile sites that Moonshadow eCommerce develops are constructed in this way and they generally load fast as compared to many other mobile sites. These ‘mobile rules’ result in a very different layout and design of the website.

Why do I need a Mobile Website?
Your existing website is fully functional when using Mobile Safari, Opera, or any of the other mobile browsers. However, navigation is cumbersome. Visitors have to zoom in and out all the time and page loading times are slow. You should test out how your website works on a mobile phone and see this for yourself. Open a web browser on an Internet smartphone and browse to your own non-optimized website. Compare the navigation of your existing site on a mobile phone with the navigation of a mobile optimized site and you will see how much easier it is to navigate the mobile site. If navigation is cumbersome visitors will leave with a bad impression.

Here’s a mobile site you can use as a comparison: Landcurrent

How do I build a Mobile Website?
There are several ways to do this and what’s best for you really depends on your requirements and how you have created your existing ‘desktop’ website.

If you have a static website that doesn’t change too often then you are best off using a content management system for mobile websites. Moonshadow eCommerce has developed Moonshadow Mobile which is a system with which you can create your own mobile website in less than an hour. Send us an email at iphone@moonshadowecommerce.com to request your own account.

If your web site has dynamic content and you control the code that generates it your engineering staff can create the mobile optimized output from your existing system.

If you use WordPress, Movable Type or any other content management system that has RSS output then you can build a Moonshadow Mobile site that uses the RSS output to keep the content synchronized automatically.

How many Internet Smartphones are there?
In less than two years after its introduction, Apple has sold over 25 million iPhones. Apple continues to sell over 1.5 million iPhones per month. In addition there are about 20-25 million iPod Touches that consumers can use to browse the Internet. Blackberry has sold about 20 million phones but not all of these phones have sophisticated Internet browsers and most have small ‘half-size’ screens. Palm just introduced the Palm Pre and T-Mobile has released its first Android smartphones. All together, there are probably at least 60-70 million mobile devices with good Internet browsing capabilities and the number of devices is growing very rapidly. Last year, mobile browsing grew 250% according to some industry estimates. We think that the installed base of Internet smartphones is now large enough so that every organization with a website should consider building mobile versions of its web sites.

The graph below shows the spectacular growth of iPhones over the last two years.

iphone sales

Switching between your Mobile and non-Mobile Website
If you create a mobile site you can configure your existing website so that it switches automatically to the mobile version of your website if it is accessed from a mobile browser. You can do this by checking the http-user-agent. However, you should provide a way for visitors to override this. Sometimes visitors will want to be able to see your original website when they are browsing your site on an Internet smartphone. Your regular site will probably have richer content and sometimes visitors will want to have access to that while they are on the road. We also recommend you list a button on your regular website that allows people to switch to the mobile content.

What is an App?
‘App’ is short for application and in the context of smartphones it stands for a computer program that can run on a smartphone. Up to July 11, 2008 Apps were always provided by the manufacturer of the smartphone (Apple, Blackberry, etc.). On that date Apple introduced its ‘App Store’ and opened development of apps to independent software developers. In less than a year over 100,000 software developers have registered with Apple and created over 65,000 apps for the iPhone. To date consumers have downloaded iPhone apps over 1.5 billion times. Blackberry and Palm have followed suit and opened their own App stores for their devices. Microsoft, the developer of the Windows Mobile operating system and Google, developer of the Android mobile os, have announced app stores as well.

The graph below shows the number of times App downloads in the last year.

iphone app downloads

What is the difference between a Native App and a Web App?
There are two ways to develop applications; as web apps and as native apps. In a web app all the computer code that generates the pages in the application runs on servers on the Internet. In a native app the computer code runs on the phone itself. Native apps can be faster and do more sophisticated graphics. Depending on the functionality, native apps can run if there is no Internet connectivity available. Web apps always need Internet connectivity to function. However, if native apps need to pull data from the Internet then the differences disappear and it can be hard to even see the difference between a native app and a web app. On the iPhone native apps can only be distributed by Apple, or by paying Apple a per unit fee for ‘ad-hoc’ distribution. Apple controls what apps it allows and it routinely rejects apps. Web apps are not subject to Apples rigorous approval process and they can contain any subject matter. Native Apps can be sold through the App store, web apps are free. In general, consumers prefer native apps that are available through Apples app store – even if they have to pay a few dollars for content that is otherwise free.

Developing native apps is much (much) more expensive than developing web apps. Different smartphones use different programming languages and native apps need to be rewritten for each smartphone. Web apps can be written once and made available on all smartphones with sophisticated Internet browsers. To confuse matters more web apps can be converted into native apps. Moonshadow eCommerce provides a service to take web apps and convert these into native apps that can be listed in Apple’s App store.