Tech Companies Agree on Mobile Web Rules

— June 28, 2006

Some of the world's top wireless and Internet companies, including Nokia, Vodafone and Google, have agreed on a set of Web site development guidelines aimed at making it easier to surf the Internet on cell phones.

The majority of cell phones today have Web browsers as wireless providers hope to expand beyond voice services, but only about 19 percent of U.S. mobile phone users regularly use the Web on their phones, according to researcher M:Metrics.

The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), a group backed by 30 industry players, hopes to improve on this percentage by creating 60 guidelines for developers to design sites that are easy to use on cell phones, which have much smaller screens and tiny keypads.

"We're now seeing devices in users' hands that are capable of browsing the Web, but they're not being used as much as they could be," said Daniel Applequist, a Vodafone executive who chaired the group that worked on the guidelines.

"The majority of Web sites out there do not work well on cell phones," he said, adding that if more Web sites were less awkward to navigate on cell phones, they could attract more users.

The guidelines advise developers against using big graphics or pop-up ads that could clutter phone screens.

They also suggest designing sites in such a way that the content appears right at the top of a cell phone screen, allowing users to avoid scrolling past multiple navigation links.

"A common problem is that you have a small screen, so when a Web site loads, the navigational elements like home page or next page links are the only things you see instead of the content you're looking for," Applequist said.

The guidelines also steer developers away from using cookies, which store information on the viewer's computer to help Web sites remember user preferences, enabling speedier navigation.

As cookies do not work on cell phones, developers need to find alternatives, Applequist said.

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