Mobile websites suck

I hopped on the mobile web train early on, in the WAP era, on my Motorola V3. Back then, GPRS speeds were well-known as painfully slow next to the rising broadband connection, but I was okay with them. Most Google apps were dutifully adapted to WAP and rendered a minified version in the native browser, enough for me to do some searches and read some emails.

Then the smartphone era came by and, again, I hopped on the Symbian train with my forever-missed Nokia E63. I used to type so fast in that tiny keyboard that I would rather write essays on it than in a regular computer keyboard. Most full-featured websites wouldn't work on it, for sure, but Opera Mini did a remarkable job at adapting them to that tiny 2.5" screen (which, back then, was YUUUGE). Of course, it wasn't a breeze to navigate through links then, its main culprit being the lack of a touchscreen, but that was to be expected. Back in the day, we had honesty.

Consumer technology has certainly gone a long way since then. Most phones have got larger screens. New forms of interacting with web apps have been developed. Responsive design and mobile-first web development have become the norm in the industry. Mobile processors have made great strides towards Javascript processing. Most popular mobile browsers are basically reformatted versions of their desktop counterparts.

One thing hasn't changed, though: mobile web browsing sucks.

In fact, if anything, it has only become more frustrating. In a world where Twitter Bootstrap is a thing, it should be unacceptable to force mobile users into stripped-down versions of web applications. Yet, this watered-down standard managed to climb its way to appraisal. By forcing users to do LESS, it seems like content providers believe they are doing MORE.

GitHub Issues looks like a shopping list. Where have my projects, milestones, deadlines gone? In what scenario would an issues list like this be useful to a developer? I can't even properly add a new issue to a repository, since all options for rich text formatting are gone. GitHub, known for its leading role on the Markdown adoption, did not care about integrating it into its mobile version.

Trello is another one to follow this trend. While the web version is packed with features such as stickers and power-ups, the mobile version is just a poorly organized whiteboard, with plenty of empty screen state left to be used. It is so terribly designed that, in fact, it kills Trello's main feature: the ability to provide a big picture at a glance. I feel comfortable sharing this screen with the whole Internet, because there's barely any information being shown. Trello's mobile team did not even bother to implement emojis!

Stack Overflow did, in fact, look promising when I started using it. When I landed on its home screen, I was greeted by a well-rounded list of answers, a thorough compilation of topics (it calls them tags), thoughtful icons, a decent approach to hidden options under a menu, careful color choices, and barely any ads. In fact, one can engage it for hours before seeing an ad (which seriously increases its value). That is, until you need to ask a question, when you suddenly feel out of luck. Stack Overflow, a Q&A site known for its unusually high standards for new questions, does not provide duplicate suggestions or rich text formatting options on its mobile version. For a website supposed to often display code, not offering at least monospaced fonts is a flaw too serious to overlook.

Not even Twitter escapes this stupidity. Half of the screen is taken by ads, meaning I can only read a single tweet before scrolling. The content-free approach is, at least, consistent across all views: despite limiting my submissions to 140 characters, Twitter deems reasonable to take up the whole screen state by a blank screen while I type. Probably saving space for future ads.


I really don't understand this trend of emerging tech companies building shitty mobile products. If anything, they should be pushing for better, more powerful mobile interfaces, since those are entry barriers against worse positioned competitors. A poorly done web interface is worse than none: it's expensive to design, deploy and maintain. It would be better to just disable it completely and tell users to just download the app. Being straightforward would likely be less cruel and painful than telling us to go fuck ourselves this way.

Tags: web design 



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