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?

4 thoughts on “InformationWeek attempts iPhone website; Fails

  1. Chris

    In this case, curious as to your thoughts on Mobile Frameworks such as the jQuery Mobile project in Alpha:

    http://jquerymobile.com/demos/1.0a2/

    (Viewable on both desktop and mobile browsers, Progressive Enhancement technique used to fall back for older or less featured browsers, IE7/8 desktop support coming soon).

  2. adam Post author

    @Chris

    Well, it doesn’t work on iPhone – it’s incredibly slow, it flickers crazily, and basics like back/forwards don’t seem to work properly. Why go to so much effort to make a shitty experience that is considerably worse than just making a standard HTML4/CSS2 website?

    I’ve nothing against JS, but I’m still bemused that some people think it’s a good idea to use it to solve every problem they ever encounter.

    “If all you have is a hammer…”

  3. Chris

    @adam

    Much appreciate your thoughts.

    On one hand the user experience holds me back me, but on the other hand the lazy coder in me is (shamefully) drawn to the lazy approach a framework provides, especially if it’s capable of both a desktop and a mobile experience.

    You’re right though, the user experience should come first. Sometimes we’ve just got to hear it come from another coder who isn’t invested in the work at hand.

  4. adam

    Sorry, that came out harsher than I intended.

    As you say, I was just trying to emphasise that IMHO we should judge primarily on user experience, and on “the tools used” as a secondary issue.

    I wouldn’t say it’s lazy per se to run with frameworks … although I’ve seen many people go that route out of laziness … often it’s a case of they don’t have the time / budget to get separate experiences made.

    …yet, if you are in that situation, I don’t understand why people do anything other than just make the desktop version, and design it well. So long as you don’t use Flash, everything else will work just fine on an iPhone (and on any other sensible smartphone).

    Apple appears to have put huge effort into making every website easy to use on iPhone; why do people feel the need to cripple their own websites “in the name of iPhone”? – the websites were working *absolutely fine* already.

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