iPhone Only Web Sites Are Bad Business


Houston TV channel KRIV recently launched FoxRad.mobi. It’s a standalone mobile weather site that isn’t linked to the channel’s  main mobile news (including weather) site at wap.myfoxhouston.com. FoxRad provides very comprehensive weather information for Houston area residents with national, regional and local forecasts and radar maps.  At the local level FoxRad.mobi provides a separate forecast page and radar map for each of the 18 counties making up metro Houston.  It’s a great resource for anyone who needs detailed, timely weather information on the go.

Unfortunately, FoxRad.mobi is an iPhone only site.  Well that’s not strictly so, every device that’s not an iPhone gets redirected to a rather meh one page static affair with a couple of weather maps plus current and 7 day forecasts. The four images on that page are 640×480 affairs re-sized to 320×240 using CSS, which means the large un-resized images have to be downloaded to the phone and re-sized locally, wasting bandwidth, processor cycles and battery juice. The unnecessarily big images also make the page nearly 300kb in size, too large for most feature phones.

You can override FoxRad’s browser detection and get the iPhone version on any phone by going to media2.myfoxhouston.com/foxradmobi/iphone. If one uses that unweildly and undocumented URL, all the features of the enhanced version work perfectly on an HTC Dream Android phone and with Opera Mobile 10 Beta 3 on a Nokia N95-3.  The page also loads in the Nokia browser on the N95-3 and with Opera Mini, but none of the links work in those two browsers thanks to a dependency on some non-portable JavaScript.

The sad part about this is that there is nothing about FoxRad that couldn’t work with all mobile browsers.  The site is really just your standard list of links pointing to various views of text and image content. It’s implemented using JavaScript to  hide and displays objects on the screen, a technique that could have been made to work with any browser that has even a little JavaScript support. Slightly more work using progressive enhancement techniques would have allowed the site  to be usable even on the many mobile browsers that have no JavaScript support at all. FoxRad is a perfect example of what browser compatibility researcher and consultant Peter Paul Koch (PPK) calls  “The iPhone Obsession”,  the belief that only Apple’s phone, which accounted for but 15% of smartphone and 3.2 percent of all phones sold last year, is worth developing for.

I urge everyone involved in mobile development to read PPK’s piece as well as venture capitalist Mark Suster’s  “App is Crap (why Apple is bad for your health)“. Limiting your mobile presence to the iPhone is bad business because  your message will  reach only a fraction of the market.  For most services building cross platform web apps exploiting the growing power of the mobile browsers  is far more effective. Sources: Mobility.mobi, OpenAttitude.

Filed in: Wap Review Directory – News/US Local by State/Pennsylvania – Vermont

Ratings: Content ****_ Usability XXX__

Ready.mobi Score: 2 “Bad”

Mobile Link: foxrad.mobi