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Ask Slashdot: Why Do Mobile Versions of Websites Suck? 382

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the second-system dept.
First time accepted submitter Kelbear writes "As user traffic over mobile devices grows in leaps and bounds, it's surprising to me as a layman that so many companies still have crippled and broken mobile pages in late 2013. There must be justifiable reasons for this, so: Fellow Slashdotters, can you please share the obstacles you've seen in your own companies that have delayed or defeated efforts to develop competent mobile sites? Are the issues in obtaining or maintaining compatibility driven by platform owners like Apple and Google?"
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Ask Slashdot: Why Do Mobile Versions of Websites Suck?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:14PM (#45771365)

    The mobile version chokes up my browser so badly that I frequently just close the tab and move on to other sites. It's very annoying that I can't see the regular site from my iPad. (Maybe if I logged, but I don't want to log in)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I actually prefer, and mostly read Slashdot via mobile... either on my phone or tablet. The same goes for news sites and "blog type" sites.. less clutter gets me right to the content. That being said, most mobile sites downright suck. I refuse to bank, shop, or do any research via mobile web. I just isn't conducive to getting things done. So yes, I agree with the premise, but not this particular example.

      • I can't figure out how to display comments that are filtered due to low mod on the mobile site.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by C18H27NO3 (1282172)
      I just brought Slashdot up on my phone (Sprint Galaxy S3) and it popped right up without any issues. No performance or formatting problems that I could see in either Chrome or Firefox. /shrug
    • by symbolset (646467) *
      If it could just remember that I never want to see that catastrophe again, a setting maybe, that would be great. Having to request the desktop site EVERY FIVE MINUTES has become a drag.
    • Yes, Slashdot's mobile site sucis. On my Android phone, having to log in to reply forces me to drag the screen up to get the Ligon button above the keyboard, and there is no keyboard drop. In the Feedly browser, lift too far and got close the page and lose the reply. Pus.

      Yes, is the interaction between Feedly and /., and I'm not expecting it to be addressed, because the fingerpointing will start in 3, 2,...

    • by pspahn (1175617) on Monday December 23, 2013 @10:32PM (#45771963)

      Apple has stated that site owners should serve a specific version for iPad users. I can't find their FAQ that discusses this, but I remember it from about a year ago.

      Yes, an iPad specific theme provides a better experience for iPad users; however, this simply adds additional fragmentation to the web developer's workflow and is precisely the reason the movement has been so strong in the last few years to get away from browser/platform specific "workarounds".

      We (web developers) have had to deal with IE for so long that when something new comes along that forces us into the same box we've been clawing our way out of, well, it's not surprising that we tell our bosses not to do it.

      Consider that even as we near 2014, most web sites are not responsive. The whole responsive movement relies on building a site's theme into about three flavors (suit to taste); desktop, smaller screens (small laptops, etc) and mobile. The gray area between "small screen" and mobile is quite large and iPad suffers because it is often treated as a mobile device. After all, it has a touch screen like a mobile device. It is smaller than a desktop like a mobile device. It has a battery... etc etc.

      When all is said and done, you're looking at the mobile version of a site on an iPad because the days of coding a specific version of a site for a specific device are behind us and it's a massive waste of money and resources.

      • by icebike (68054)

        When all is said and done, you're looking at the mobile version of a site on an iPad because the days of coding a specific version of a site for a specific device are behind us and it's a massive waste of money and resources.

        Exactly so.
        Anyone selling a device that can't handle the web as it is, and demanding the web the way they want it, is someone you should immediately run away from like your hair is on fire. Web devs should never again bend to that way of thinking.

        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @06:10AM (#45774003) Journal

          It depends on the reason. If it can't take HTML/CSS/JavaScript and display it correctly, then it's simply a buggy device. If, however, it has a very small screen then there's a good reason for asking for a custom version. Browsing the web from my tablet, I typically want the same UI as on a desktop. The screen is big enough and it's fine. On my phone, I really hate the 3-column layout that lots of sites love because it's a pain to zoom just enough to see the middle one (where the content goes) and to scroll keeping it inline.

          And some things, like mouse-over pop-up menus are just a bad idea on any device. At best they're lacking in discoverability, at worst they're impossible to use.

      • It depends on your traffic though. On one of my client's sites the iPad now accounts for nearly 30% of all the traffic. iPhone is about 12%. All Android devices account for 15% of traffic. That means over half our traffic is now coming from mobile devices. We implemented responsive design in 2012, but now it's to the point where we are debating whether or not to offer a native app.

        • If there is nothing you can do without an internet connection, don't make an app.

          An app that simply renders web content is called a web browser, all smart phones already have one.

  • case in point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:15PM (#45771371) Homepage Journal
    /.

    and no way to turn it off.

    Mobile sites just make too many assumptions, with no way to configure. Mostly those assumptions have to with advertisements.

    • by xlsior (524145)
      /.
      and no way to turn it off.


      Eh?

      You do have the option to switch between the mobile and the full site on a mobile device
    • Re:case in point (Score:5, Informative)

      by sumdumass (711423) on Monday December 23, 2013 @10:00PM (#45771731) Journal

      Install a separate browser then change the user agent settings to represent a desktop.

      I do this on my phone and it solves the problem of crappy sites but I still have a browser I can go back to for those sites I need the mobile version for.

      • Or they could just build a better mobile site...
      • by pspahn (1175617)

        This only works because of the terrible practice of checking a user agent string to decide which version to display. YMMV.

        If a site simply uses @media breakpoints in a single (or merged) stylesheet and serves that stylesheet to everyone, changing your UA string will do nothing. If that's the case, hit F12 and find the section in the style sheet that mentions "@media" and has some values for device widths. Not sure if there's a browser plug-in out there that lets you override and save CSS info on a site by

        • by Njovich (553857)

          This only works because of the terrible practice of checking a user agent string to decide which version to display.

          I don't get peoples purism about web development. Often browsers nominally support something but are in fact broken (ok, this used to be true more before than it is now). So why not just check if it's internet explorer looking at this site so I can fall back to an image instead of their broken gradient rendering or such. I really see nothing wrong with this. Media queries have their place, but

          • by pspahn (1175617)

            Really, I misspoke. What I should have said was, "terrible practice of **only** checking a user agent string..."

    • by z0idberg (888892) on Monday December 23, 2013 @10:13PM (#45771837)

      Obligatory:

      http://xkcd.com/869/ [xkcd.com]

    • Damn it would be cool if Slashdot had a discrete API for pulling news and messages. Nice, fast and configurable native clients could be developed to any platform.
      • The mobile and beta sites are actually built upon a REST API. Supposedly documentation was going to be released to the public, eventually. Personally, I wish more things supported AtomPub...

    • Re:case in point (Score:5, Informative)

      by yincrash (854885) on Monday December 23, 2013 @10:21PM (#45771881)
      Force 'classic' mode [slashdot.org]
    • Have you tried classic.slashdot.org ? I always browse the desktop version of /. on my phone because of how epically bad the mobile version is. I dead the day that the beta website becomes standard. That's worse than windows 8 level fail.

  • by dugancent (2616577) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:16PM (#45771385)

    The mobile version of Slashdot sucks hard.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Threni (635302)

      This. I keep getting asked to try it out and fill in some sort of bland, pointless questionnaire that doesn't let me express what I feel about it.

      Horrible ajaxy stuff so you have no idea if it's doing something or died. Would help if there were some sort of standard `i'm doing something` animation or indication across all sites, but no. Flashy rather than basic functionality.

      Mobile sites often remove stuff that would work perfectly well on a mobile site. Mobile doesn't have to mean retarded. Switching fro

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:39PM (#45771573)

      The mobile version of Slashdot sucks hard.

      AJAX.

      The more you try and make it "responsive", the less it works.

      This is a motherfucking website [motherfuckingwebsite.com]. It renders in every browser. It doesn't require Javascript, Java, Flash, AIR, or HTML5. It doesn't load 100kB of jQuery. In fact, the entire website takes up less space than most avatars do.

      It. just. works.

      Slashdot: Please abort the failed beta. Give the guy his money and let him go. Give him a promotion, he's obviously learned a lot about the hot new thing that'll look good on his resume next time. But please, just please, don't put that beta into production. It doesn't even have a 'view all comments' option. It's less functional than the current AJAX failure of D2, which itself was far less functional than the classic/D1 version. Please. Just. Stop.

      • by Jiro (131519) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @02:04AM (#45773103)

        That motherfucking website has, if you examine the source, Javascript at the bottom which loads more Javascript from google-analytics. There's a comment of "yes, I know...wanna fight about it?" which pretty much indicates that the site creator knows he's being a motherfucking hypocrite by putting that on a website whose supposed point is that that sort of thing is a bad idea.

        (Of course I put google-analytics as 127.0.0.1 in /etc/hosts, since I see no reason to ever want to load anything from there, even if for some reason I have to turn ad blocking off.)

  • budget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cultiv8 (1660093) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:17PM (#45771393) Homepage
    And technical incompetence.
  • I really don't think that browsing the web on a mobile phone is all that popular, or even something that people want to do. And this comes from someone with unlimited data and a phone with a 4 inch screen. I rarely feel the need to just browse the web on my phone. I do lots of online things like read RSS feeds, listen to podcasts, read my email, look up maps, and lots of other stuff, but none of this requires a web browser. Just about anything that I'd want to do with my phone is much better done by an ap
    • It really depends on your demographics... my old workplace (auto classifieds site) now gets about 20% of its' traffic from mobile (mostly tablet, mostly ipad) and it's not even a mobile friendly site.

      My biggest issues with mobile sites is when they don't allow zoom and the text is too damned small.
    • by i.r.id10t (595143)

      Just about anything that I'd want to do with my phone is much better done by an app, even if the site has a good mobile version

      My issue is that I shouldn't need an app to access the same info I can get via a browser on the desktop. Why, if that app does a better job, does it ask for permissions to data it has no need to access?

      • by jc42 (318812)

        My issue is that I shouldn't need an app to access the same info I can get via a browser on the desktop. Why, if that app does a better job, does it ask for permissions to data it has no need to access?

        Duh; one of its important jobs is sending that data back to its mother ship (or to the NSA. ;-)

        Doesn't everyone understand that? Are there "smartphone" users dumb enough to think that the app isn't doing such things?

    • I really don't think that browsing the web on a mobile phone is all that popular, or even something that people want to do.

      Quickly checking my Google Analyitics shows that, over the past month, about 52% of my traffic came from desktop users, about 35% came from mobile users, and about 13% came from tablet users. Yes, this is one case, but this article [marketingland.com] indicates that mobile use is now 28% of traffic. While mobile isn't overtaking desktop, it certainly is a large enough percentage of traffic that it should

  • Fundamentally... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by msauve (701917) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:27PM (#45771479)
    If you consider that it's all about communicating information, smaller screens mean lower bandwidth.

    Especially in a world where people seem to prefer passive information (i.e. "show me," instead of "teach me"), why would it be expected that a smaller screen with lower bandwidth wouldn't be worse?
  • When you Google something and select a result - the website redirects you to the mobile version of their home page - not the content you want. Thus, you can never get to what you are looking for...
  • Mobile PC? What's that? A notebook, right? Or one of those ones with detachable keyboards? Maybe you mean the ones with blutooth keyboard sold separately and the smaller (or, egad!, tiny) screens?

    Yeah, the reason the mobile site sucks is because there is no such thing as a mobile personal computer. It's just a PC with a very capital P. If your hardware sucks, well, sorry man. Get with the times. I don't expect to play Gears of War on my 16 bit 80386 DOS machine.

    There's this thing called Moore's Law.

    • A "mobile" PC here is touch-controlled and ARM-powered. This usually means no hover and no SWF.
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Mobile PC? What's that? A notebook, right? Or one of those ones with detachable keyboards? Maybe you mean the ones with blutooth keyboard sold separately and the smaller (or, egad!, tiny) screens?

      Close. Mobile is here simply synonym for "small screen". And the absence of a proper device, such as a mouse.

  • by caseih (160668) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:35PM (#45771545)

    Maybe a year or two ago, Slashdot on mobile was great. It looked and functioned relatively similarly to the full site, but was formatted for narrow phone screens. It worked great. You could read comments, configure the comments, post comments, and moderate. It was, in my opinion, a perfect blend of the functionality of the full site with a mobile-optimized site. Sadly, Dice threw that all out and now we have the horrid mobile slashdot site. Ironically the traditional desktop site is more usable on the mobile screen than the mobile site. The new slashdot beta, on the other hand, well it just proves Dice doesn't really understand what this site it bought actually is.

    Kudos to the submitter for managing to submit a story that really is, "why does slashot mobile suck?" but in a form that the story moderators accepted.

    Once the beta desktop site goes live, I expect to see a story, "Why do site redesigns suck?" Sadly participating in that conversation will be much more difficult as even figuring out how to read comments in a sane way seems to be impossible with the new beta, let alone posting!

  • I have this with the Amazon store from within the Kindle app. It's completely useless compared to the desktop website. Even things as simple as turning the author's name into a link to their other works just isn't there. And that's just a simple link, so it can't be because they need to make it work for simple devices. So they only reason I can come up with is that they simply don't care.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just do a multi-column layout with a content column that is narrow enough to be comfortably read on a smartphone. That's it. On a smartphone you can then just zoom into the content and read it and if you want to look at all the side stuff, shift over. On larger screens you get all the content in a readable width (instead of lines 150 characters long) and with all the side stuff in view. Best of both worlds.

    What totally, utterly sucks is the "responsive design" sites that load a MB of CSS and Javascript fram

    • Just do a multi-column layout with a content column that is narrow enough to be comfortably read on a smartphone.

      So once I've started with #bodytext {max-width: 32em} for comfortable reading without skipping or rereading lines, what "side stuff" should I add on wider screens such as desktop and large tablets? I've read complaints that a web design isn't "using the full width" of a 1920px wide maximized PC browser window.

    • by manu0601 (2221348)

      Just do a multi-column layout with a content column that is narrow enough to be comfortably read on a smartphone.

      If you do that, please add a link at the bottom of column n, to jump to the top of column n+1

  • There are very good mobile websites, the problem is 99% of them are an afterthought. Oh we designed out website, now make a very simple mobile one quickly.

    jQuery (mobile) has some awesome features that make the mobile version of a website fantastic.

    Sadly it takes a site designer with real skills to make a good site that looks good across platforms, and that means expensive. Most companies barely want to pay the minimum for their website let alone what it takes to get a competent company that can make

  • You mean WML version?

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Monday December 23, 2013 @09:55PM (#45771683)

    Mobile sites should be the same site just with less/no flash and tighter layout. Beyond that, the site should be identical.

    What is annoying about mobile sites is that frequently they're totally different and since they're second string productions they tend to be missing stuff.

    • Exactly this. The mobile version is a one off version of the primary development effort. Mobile browsers are supposed to be modern and fully supporting web standards, but it's not enough if the site designers make you jump through too many hoops (if you're allowed at all) just to get to the regular version again.
  • Some video providers sell PC rights to one company and sell mobile rights to another. This produces "The content owner has not made this video available on mobile" error messages.

    When I look at a Facebook comment section with a desktop user agent, I get "Comment using..." that lets me log in with the Yahoo!, AIM, or Microsoft account that I already have, but with a mobile user agent, I get "Login to Facebook to Post a Comment". Nobody has yet managed to convince me of the benefit of having a Facebook acc

  • just don't make a mobile version. please. you're not smart enough.

    I hate going to websites on my phone and being kicked into some crippled view that doesn't have what I want. so just, don't.

    I can navigate the sites I know very well on my phone's browser. no "help" needed.

  • by intermelt (196274) on Monday December 23, 2013 @10:13PM (#45771833) Homepage

    Modern phones don't really need a mobile version of a site. As a user I usually find myself forcing the "desktop" version of the site when I can. As a web developer I usually tell people not to waste their money on a mobile version. Most mobile sites suck because someone decided they needed a mobile version either for cool factor or to please a boss. They didn't have a good budget and cut corners on every aspect. There are use cases where a website should be done in a mobile format and can be useful when the budget is available.

    Lets start with good mobile sites. Those that should be mobile. These are sites that someone might access while actually on the go or need to do something quick. Think directions or ordering food. Most people don't want to shop Target from their phone. However a lot of people want to get directions to the closest Target. A good mobile site would prioritize the directions/location aspect. That works for retail and your standard service businesses. The other type is restaurants that deliver. When you are sitting in front of your TV and want to order a pizza, you obviously are in lazy mode. A restaurant mobile website can make the ordering process simple and quick. These are examples of use cases where mobile sites work and and should be used.

    I think most mobile sites fall in the category of "we need a mobile site" This is where there is no budget and the client is offered a shitty mobile site so a developer can make a quick buck with buzz words. These sites tend to be created with generators or a general theme on a Wordpress site. Nothing special and usually makes the experience worse.

    The last category is what you asked about. A good mobile friendly website. These are sites that don't fall into the restaurant/location (however I consider those ones that don't suck) category because they need more than just directions or ordering pizza. These types of sites cost a lot to develop. Developing a true user friendly mobile site is not easy. Think about developing a site for IE7, IE8, IE9, Safari, FF, and Chrome. Fairly standard a year or so ago. It took time. Now multiply that by 10. Ok so now you know the time involved to develop and test a good mobile site. However you only have a Galaxy S4 to test on. So now you need to go purchase multiple iPhones, multiple Android phones, a few iPads and maybe a few Android tablets. You can now start debugging on all these devices. Good luck! Oh and then ask your customers if they care. The ROI is not there.

    This is why mobile sites suck. No one wants to invest the money to do it right. Even those that do invest the money either focus on a single platform or can't keep up with the ever changing community of mobile devices.

    Taking some of the points from above you realize that you should just have a normal site and let people deal with zooming (pinching) in and out to click on links. Or maybe go for an app if you have something specialized.

     

  • They used to offer the core functionality, without all the extra clutter and crap the regular version had. Mobile websites were quicker to load. Then mobile exploded in the marketplace, more companies started paying more attention to their mobile presence, and now often the mobile sites are no better than the web versions.

    Either are improved by focusing on functionality first.

  • I can barely use Google's Mobile. Why?
    1) They have turned off the ability to reverse pinch to make the text bigger.
    2) They are using White Background with Gray Letters.

    Really guys, does anyone test their software in enviroment that is not a designed "normal" mode.

    The internet with it's structure allowed for the user to adjust character size to make it readable... Now, you turn it off! Some great help or equallizer!

  • by Culture20 (968837)
    My smartphone has more pixels than my laptop, but the same 14yo seems to design the sites where you purposefully select the regular site, and every link you click reverts to the mobile version. Stop it. Let the user choose or just stick with a normal site designed for 1280 pixels wide and let the browser sort it out. Hint: the latter is easier.
  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Monday December 23, 2013 @11:02PM (#45772133)

    xkcd [xkcd.com]

    Most relevant is the image tip text. Ran into this last night, with no ability to get to the link I had found via search engine. I had to give up on the site and go elsewhere. Is there a way to set Chrome Mobile to pretend to be a regular browser? (hey anyone remember the browser agent dropdown selection in old versions of opera)

  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday December 23, 2013 @11:08PM (#45772173)

    Thanks to CSS3's media queries, no site should need a "mobile version." You design one site and have it modify itself based on the browser's size. A good example of this is the Boston Globe's site [bostonglobe.com]. Go to the site in Chrome or FireFox (not IE) in a large, but not maximized browser. Now slowly resize the browser, making it smaller and smaller. As you do, the site will reconfigure itself from full-fledged desktop site to small-screen mobile site (with quite a few steps in between).

    The benefit of this is, of course, that you don't need to maintain two or three different sites. You maintain one site and modify it to suit different sized browsers. Compare this to a mobile site which needs to redirect users to a different URL and often needs a completely separate development effort.

  • Wrong question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by foobar bazbot (3352433) on Monday December 23, 2013 @11:23PM (#45772267)

    When high-end mobiles had EDGE and QVGA, and many people were stuck with GPRS and 160px screens, mobile sites were absolutely necessary. But with today's phones, the question is not why mobile sites suck, but why we need mobile sites at all.

    Over the past decade, the actual functionality of websites, aside from streaming video (which is huge, to be sure) has barely changed at all. Over the same decade, mobile hardware and software have advanced to match the low-end desktops of 2003. If video streaming is handled by separate apps (as it mostly is), there's little reason one website shouldn't work for both desktop and mobile use.

    I only really see four differences between today's 1136x640 or 1280x720 phone and yesterday's 1024x768 desktop, as far as web browsing goes:

    • mouse motion (without a button state change) - generally, depending on either mouseover or drag is bad practice (it fails not only with touchscreens, but also with software for people with disabilities), but of course they can also be very convenient (provided you actually have a mouse). The right solution is for websites to provide the same functionality another way (e.g. m.xkcd.com [xkcd.com]'s alt-text show/hide link -- note that while this is a mobile site, I and many others use it on desktops; it's a good example of one site working well for both.) Sadly we can't expect such accommodation, so the next alternative is to patch over it in the browser -- the N900's browser does this tolerably well (only permits drags, but most mouse-over stuff works ok by dragging in from an inactive area), but most other mobile browsers don't even try, and I really can't understand why.
    • right click - it's mostly mapped to long-touch and works as you'd expect in a lot of mobile browsers. But in some it doesn't work at all. If one does a good fix for allowing separate position/button control, it's trivial to add support for right mouse button.
    • screen size - there's a factor of 5 between a 15-20" display and a 3-4" display, so unless you use your phone at one-fifth the distance you use your monitor, you can fit less readable text on it despite the comparable or better number of pixels. But you can always move the phone temporarily closer to see tiny text, and pinch-zooming is so easy on (most) mobiles, it's a mostly solved problem for most sites. For the sites where this doesn't work well, maybe a mobile site really is the answer.
    • fat-finger syndrome - UI elements that are to be clicked have to be big. Since one clicks hyperlinks, this means hyperlinks have to be big. But again, zoom fixes this well enough.

    It seems like a tiny fraction of the effort spent on mobile sites (making a few changes to mobile browsers) could permit many existing sites to work just fine on both mobiles and desktops, and an additional fraction (making changes to those websites) would fix almost all the remaining ones. Fiddling with mouseover emulation and zooming clearly costs the user time vs. a good mobile-only site, but it's not at all clear to me that that's really true vs. an average mobile site (which, on average, is what you'll get) or that if it is, that the cost in wasted user time is less than the cost in developer time expended on creating and maintaining a mobile site.

    Of course, this is all built on the assumption that a website that does A, B, and C today should be no more complicated and require no more resources than a website doing A, B, and C in 2003. While this may appear reasonable enough, Wirth's law says it's too much to expect. But a guy can dream, no?

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