Revised 14-Oct-2006 to reflect improvements in both these transcoders. Skweezer has resolved it's formatting and performance issues and now resizes images. Google has also added image resizing. I now consider these two transcoders esentially equal and the best currently available.
Parts 1 and 2 of this 4 part post covered four mobile transcoding sites, WAP sites which reformat desktop web content to make it more usable on the small screen browsers of phones and PDAs. This entry looks at two more mobile transcoders, Skweezer and Google.
Skweezer is certainly the best known of the "pure" transcoding sites i.e., not a part of a web portal or search engine. Skweezer has received numerous favorable reviews from the::unwired, jkOnTheRun and pdaPhoneHome among others and even won the Gold Star in the Personal Software: Mobile Web Content Utility category of the 2005 Mobile Star Awards™. On the other hand, a number of bloggers (see here and here) are unhappy with Skweezer, feeling it is stealing their content for financial gain by removing their adds and inserting it's own ads. While I can understand these concerns, I feel that unless these bloggers have a mobile version of their site, they really shouldn't be complaining as Skweezer is making their content usable on platforms where it otherwise would not be. Skweezer's own ads are rather unobtrusive, consisting of one or two text ads per page at the very bottom of the page.
Politics aside, how good is the Skweezer service? It does a pretty good job of reformatting sites for mobiles, preserving most formatting although it does change background and foreground colors to black on white. Skweezer
doesn't resize images but it does resizes images and allows you to turn images off. Skweezer will split large pages if it detects that your mobile requires it. I had some problems with the way Skweezer split pages. On the Motorola emulator, Skweezer split pages at 9KB and everything worked well; but with the Nokia emulator, Skweezer used 2KB pages even though the browser supports 10KB. However some pages had no content, just the Skweezer header and a link to the next page. No content was missing, but I had to click through needless blank pages. When I changed the emulator's user agent to that of the Motorola i860 which can handle 3KB pages and images, Skweezer turned off images completely and split pages into tiny 800 byte mini-pages. (Update:14-Oct-2006, these issues seem to be resolved and Skweezer now gives very good results will all the browsers I have tested with). Using all my test browsers I was able to view and navigate around both my test sites (this blog and www.southwest.com). On the Southwest Airlines site I was not able to complete my booking, I got as far as where the next page should be a secure site where I could enter my credit card information. I got a timeout error when ever I tried to go to that secure page.
Registered users (registration is free) can save favorites and contacts, retrieve POP3 email and access an extensive preferences page. On the preferences page one option tells Skweezer to use CSS which restores background and foreground colors although some sites display with overlapping text.
I found Skweezer surprisingly unreliable for such a well know site. Sometimes it would return transcoded pages in a few seconds, but often it would take a minute or more or time out completely. For a while the site was down completely, returning an error message saying "Server Application Unavailable". I suspect Skweezer's popularity has overwhelmed their server's capacity. (Update:14-Oct-2006, Skweezer seems to have resolved their capacity issues - perfornance is competitive with Google, for example).
Content: Usability: xhtml
I reviewed Google Mobile Search a while back. In summary, Google lets you search for web sites and transcodes the sites returned by the search engine when you click through to them. Google
doesn't resizes images, but it does and break pages into smaller chunks which should work on most WAP2 phones. Google uses browser detection to vary the size of the chunks from 8KB to 30KB depending on the capabilities of your browser. Forms work but not secure forms. The fourth image shows how Google disables secure forms. Images can't be turned off until after you have loaded the page, then you get a link that says "Hide Images" clicking that link reloads the page with no images. After turning off images they remain off for the rest of your session.
A unique feature of Google's transcoding engine is that when it finds a group of links with minimal text between them, it assumes that this is site navigation of some sort and collapses them into a single link with a plus sign icon and the first few letters of first menu item (see first image). If you click on the plus sign the menu expands and go can see all the links. The plus sign changes to a minus sign when the menu is expanded. Clicking the minus sign collapses the menu again (second image). This is very cool and makes the pages much less cluttered.
The only real problem with Google's transcoding engine is that there is no way to enter a url, you can only enter a site by searching for it which is inconvenient if you know the url and the site doesn't appear on the first page of search results. You can trick Google into going to a specified url by entering something like http://www.google.com/gwt/n?u=http://wapreview.com Just replace "wapreview.com with the url of your choice. If you want to view the url without images use: http://www.google.com/gwt/n?_gwt_noimg=1&u=http://www.wapreview.com/ Better yet I've created a form on my WAP site - http://yeswap.com/gtran.html - which gives you a place to input the url and checkbox to disable images (see last image).
Content: Usability: xhtml
Watch for the final installment of this series which will cover using AOL Mobile Search as a transcoder and will include a summary table listing the relative merits of each transcoding site as well as my recommendations.