(Note: Most information presented below is anecdotal.)
Perhaps one of the biggest irritants of the web is the sites that redirect “mobile device” users to mobile-formatted views. If you own an iPhone, you should be livid. You probably have spent $199 minimum with a multi-year contract to own a portable computer.
(Yeah, iPhones are portable computers. If you disagree, you really don’t want to tell me.)
People spend a lot of money to own computers that fit into their pocket. As iPhones are computers, a desktop-class web browser comes pre-installed in every one. So you can imagine a user’s disappointment when a web designer forces him or her to view something that pre-2007 Nokia users were accustomed to.
In a nutshell? A web view should look the same on an iPhone as it does on an iPad as it does on a MacBook as it does on an iMac. All have a key thing(s) in common: They’re all really fast and ship with a web browser capable of viewing standards-compliant websites.
If you remember the iPhone circa 2007, you’ll recall that it wasn’t feature-packed. There was no App Store. There was no iCloud. Users couldn’t even set their own home screen background. 2007’s iPhone is barren compared to what it is now. One reason it sold was because of Apple’s promise that users could browse full web pages without compromise.
The biggest complaint of the first iPhone that I remember is that websites — MySpace (what’s that???) inparticular — redirected iPhone users to dull, barely-functional mobile-formatted websites. People are desensitized now, but back then a bunch of web designers made them feel almost lied to. For $500+, no less.
And it’s not just that people want a desktop view on their desktop-class portable computer, it’s that most mobile-formatted websites are garbage. Mobile-formatted websites are typically ugly, add to the time it takes to complete a task (if there aren’t sub-menus in a desktop view, there shouldn’t be sub-menus in a mobile view), or both.
It should be noted that not every mobile-formatted site is junk. There are some that are a treat to browse on an iPhone. The good ones are definitely few and far between, but the best I’ve run into is Bing (screenshot below). It feels more functional than the desktop version and it’s very clean.
Again though, Bing is an exception to the rule.
We’re in the year 2012. iPhones already overlap traditional computers in more ways than most people can count. It’s more than possible for average users to replace their entire PC with one. And to the best of my understanding some people already are. Just imagine what the computing landscape will look like in five years!
Eventually more people will browse the web on their portable computers than on traditional computers. What happens then? Will iPhone users still be redirected to mobile views? Or will it be the reverse where people living in the past get redirected from mobile to desktop views?
Anyone that hangs onto the idea of “mobile-formatted” sites is going to be left behind sooner rather than later.
Sidenote: If you really want iPhone users to have a unique experience, write an app for your website. Many iPhone apps are much better to use than their desktop web counterparts on any device (i.e. the IMDb app [iTunes link]).
UPDATE: Nate Garvison posted some additions to this piece in the comments section below. Be sure to read them, but here are some excerpts.
If you design for every platform at the same time it is far more productive. Start with mobile and figure out how to adapt the CSS for different widths. …
Something that needs to change over all is how people interact with things like buttons, links or anything that reacts to a mouseover. These are great on a mouse-and-pointer environment, but mobile is not like this. There is no interaction of a pointer. The user’s finger is the only interaction there is. …
People need to start thinking about how it works on touch interfaces because I think, like you say, things are moving more in that direction for casual computing. …