With Apple Computer’s 30th anniversary approaching, I thought I’d try to find some Apple specific mobile sites. While there are plenty of good Apple web sites like Think Secret, Apple Insider and PowerPage, I had a hard time finding any with mobile editions or even easily mobilized full RSS feeds.
I did find one full feed at TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog that would make a good addition to an Apple fan’s Feedalot, Winksite or Bloglines Mobile subscription. It’s a good Apple news blog with concise summaries of the top Apple news from around the web.
MacRumors.com, the most popular Apple site comes to the rescue of mobilized Apple users with both WAP1 and WAP2 mobile editions. MacRumors publishes the same content on both WAP versions – consisting of the full text (but no images) from all of the stories on the MacRumors web site . The WAP1 stories each get their own page while the WAP2 pages include several stories – but with the page weight kept down to a reasonable 3 or 4 KB per page. MacRumors is a very active site with several new items every day.
I initially found the design of the MacRumors mobile sites unusual. The stories are published sequentially starting with the most recent. There are no search boxes, jump to page functions, index pages, categories or any of the other navigational elements one typically finds on both web and mobile pages. There are just prev page and next page links at the top and bottom of each page, that’s it. You start reading with today’s “rumors” and can go back sequentially as far as you want. I’m not sure how far back the stories go, I clicked back though 70 stories, about a month and a half worth, before I gave up. This navigation paradigm works better than I expected. It’s simple, you just read sequentially until you’ve had you fill of MacRumors. I noticed that none other than Dave Winer uses the same navigation model for the mobile version of his Scripting News blog – which certainly adds credibility to the concept.
As far as content goes, most of the items consist of a short commentary about recent interesting Apple related articles on other sites with a link to the original content. The stories on the MacRumors mobile sites contain all the links of the original web versions. Links to other pages within MacRumors go to the mobile versions, external links generally do not. In the WAP1 edition, the links to mobile pages are flagged with “(WAP)” but in the WAP2 version their is no indication that a link may lead to a non-mobile friendly page.
One thing that stands out about MacRumors is the number of comments articles get. Within a day most items have between 100 and several hundred comments. Comments appear in a vBulletin web forum rather than in typical blog comment style. The mobile sites link directly to the non-mobile forum. MacRumors could really enhance mobile usability by adding the WiForums plugin which puts a mobile front end on vBulletin. To me, the comments are the best part of MacRumors – too bad they aren’t available in a more mobile friendly fashion.
While the content is interesting and well written, there are a couple of technical issues which mar the mobile MacRumors experience. The first is that the WAP1 pages don’t validate and will not load on many wml-only phones, especially older ones. The primary issue is the use of unescaped dollar signs. Wml standards require that dollar signs be escaped by using them in pairs, so every $ should be entered in the markup as $$. I do think it’s great that sites still try to support WAP1. Worldwide, wml-only devices greatly outnumber modern (x)html WAP2 ones. Not only do old handsets get a new life in the developing world but even in the US, Nextel is still selling mainly wml-only phones and Verizon only recently moved to WAP2. But please, if you are going to develop wml sites, take the effort to get it right. WAP1 handsets are notoriously fussy that wml be valid and well-formed. If your page doesn’t pass, most wml browsers on real phones will refuse to display it. Http://validator.w3.org/ is your friend. On the other hand, MacRumors’ WAP2 pages are vanilla html and should be viewable on almost any WAP2 or PDA browser.
The other issue is that both that the WAP1 and WAP2 MacRumors pages contain special characters from the ISO-8859-1 encoding (mainly right single quote characters) but the page headers specify that the page is using a different encoding – utf-8. The result is that all browsers (even PC browsers like IE and Firefox) display the quote marks as graphic characters or question marks. Actually, for mobile pages, unless you are doing fairly sophisticated browser detection and modifying content to suit browser capabilities, it’s best to avoid fancy left and right quotes entirely as many mobile browsers can’t display them properly even with the correct encoding.
I was kind of surprised that their aren’t more Apple specific mobile sites. Certainly, the Apple community is an impassioned and vocal one that has a need to keep up with the latest on their favorite tech toys. If and when the iPhone does appear, I bet there will be an explosion of new Apple oriented mobile sites.