US air carrier Northwest Airlines has rolled out a new mobile site that includes virtually all the functionality of their desktop web site. The new site (mobile.nwa.com) supplements rather than replaces the airline’s existing and more limited mobile site at wireless.nwa.com.
The new site really does include all the functionality of the desktop web site. You can book flights – including award travel, enroll in the frequent flier program, do online check-in and even browse Northwest’s Investor Relations page!
Mobile.nwa.com was developed by Usablenet, well known for it’s tools for making web sites accessible to persons with disabilities. There’s a lot of overlap in the requirements in making a site accessible, and making it mobile friendly. Both need to emphasize text over images, put main content first and have simple, intuitive navigation. Useablenet describes their technology as transcoding but it’s clearly different than the totally automatic mobile transcoding done by Skweezer or Google. There seems to be some sort of custom mapping used in adapting Northwest’s web site to mobile. Images on the web site are not resized, rather a completely different set of fewer and small images are used. The navigational menus are organized differently in the mobile site and some of the link text is changed slightly. The end result is a site that includes all the content of the desktop site in a generally mobile friendly format.
I was a little surprised that Useablenet didn’t use accesskeys in their design as they add greatly to usability with phone browsers that lack a pointing device. Device support is somewhat limited, Useablenet’s web site indicates that their solution adapts content to fit the limitations of different mobile browsers, even wml-only one. I guess that’s an optional feature that Northwest didn’t choose to implement as the site sends xhtml-mp to the wml-only Nokia 3510i emulator and gave out of memory errors on some pages like Flight Search using the the Openwave V7 browser on my Motorola i855. Opera Mini on the same phone handled all the pages I tried with no issue. Blackberries, Smartphones and modern mainstream phones with more capable browser like NetFront or Nokia’s browser should be able to use the site.
In spite of issues with some devices, mobile.nwa.com is genuinely useful and allows travelers to do things like book flights and check- in to a flight that until were until now impossible using a handheld device.
Northwest’s is not the first or only site to have gotten the Usablenet treatment. Amtrak Mobile is also powered by Useablenet. Other’s I’ve found are mobile.delta.com and sites for Hilton Garden Inns and 1-800-Flowers.com.
Northwest Airlines Mobile (mobile.nwa.com) xhtml-mp