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InformationWeek attempts iPhone website; Fails

As an iPhone developer, I often encounter companies that try to save a lot of money by making a mobile website and then claiming (to their partners / customers / advertisers) that it’s an iPhone app. In some cases, I believe this is a good idea – they don’t have the content/presence/depth to support a full app, and a mobile website works equally poorly across all devices.

Then, occasionally, you find a company that tries to be *really* cheapskate, and specifically targets iPhone with their mobile website. This generally goes horribly wrong, and costs substantial development effort.

For instance, Information Week:

That popup is part of the website, not part of the app, and this is being viewed in bog-standard Safari on iPhone.

Someone has carefully hard-coded the webpage to:

  1. Detect iPhone as the client
  2. Draw a dialog box that assumes a specific version of Safari browser
  3. Draw a pointer to where they “know” the + button is in Safari
  4. Detect whether the + button is pressed
  5. Respond to clicking the X button in top right

…but it’s not a native app, and here’s the key thing: it doesn’t work.

The box positions perfectly, and no doubt the devleopment team (internal? external? how much did IW pay for this?) were able to demonstrate it appearing to work correctly to their stakeholders.

But, sadly, the mobile website is (apparently) incapable of detecting the X button correctly: that dialog box cannot be dismissed. It stays forever. It disappears for only the briefest of moments, then comes back again.

In the process, not only does it obliterate 30% of the screen space, but it also causes the browser to slow down for half a second while it does all the (slow) javascript calculations to position the “clever” popup box in the right place.

(a native app, of course, would be using a compiled language, and would run the same code 100x-1000x faster; the user would see no delay)

Net effect?

The user is so pissed off they’ll go out of their way to STOP visiting the Information Week website. IW loses money.

And, the irony: if IW had spent no money at all they would have been better off. The iPhone renders rich websites perfectly, certainly better than any custom iPhone skins I’ve seen. Sadly, a large number of web designers persist in trying to “prove” they are just as good as iPhone designers by making these custom skins. I’m not sure why, but it comes across as desperate and despairing, and a little pathetic. Good web designers are good at web design; good iphone designers are good at iPhone design; what’s the problem?

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