At the movie theater, I noticed something impressive. Despite that sensory overload provided by Fast Five, moviegoers couldn’t help checking their smartphones. My attention found itself competing between the large movie screen and bright phone screens. While this is a sign of the times, it is also indicative of a problem that needs a solution.
The Orthodox Stance
Common wisdom states that computers have now been segmented into four devices: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Together, they are meant to serve all your computing needs in all possible circumstance. While desktops and laptops are nearing market saturation — if they haven’t already — we haven’t yet scratched the surface for tablets and smartphones.
Indeed, tech pundits are still trying to make sense of the mobile web — especially as it touches the tablet and smartphone experience. How can one communicate information with limited screen real estate? Right now, web developers are building “standard” versions for the desktop and laptop, and “mobile” versions for smartphones.
Because tablets are so new, no one yet knows whether to categorize this as a device for the “standard” or “mobile” web. While iPads are 10 inches in size, the Blackberry Playbook and Samsung Galaxy Tab come in 7 inch dimensions. The Dell Streak is even smaller: it is 5 inches, and struts the line between tablet and smartphone.
A Symptom of a Problem
The problem with the “four devices” view of the Internet is that it doesn’t deal with another real problem. The screen of my iPod Nano is the size of a wristwatch face. It appears to run a stripped down version of iOS. Pray tell, what would happen if, in an upcoming release, Apple decides to give it Internet connectivity? Somehow, we’ll need to squeeze the web onto dimensions that are less than a square inch.
This does not take into account devices that have screen real estate, but due to the context of their use, require a more streamlined interface. It’s only a matter of time before car dashboards are also equipped with web browsers. In this situation, users will not be able to control the interface through touch, now will they be able to stare at the screen for long periods. Somehow, the web will need to work for car drivers.
Going back to the user scenario involving movie theatres. People clearly need access to the internet. They cannot talk during the movie, and using a smartphone is bad manners. How then can the web meet a user’s needs?
The Web Everywhere
The answer, of course, is that developers will need to create a web that is less homogeously visual. In fact, in cases where the web doesn’t need to be visual, perhaps it shouldn’t be. Developers will need to loosen restrictions on how their content is perceived so as to reach a greater audience.
Of course, blind users of the Internet have been dealing with this problem forever. Developers continue struggling with accessibility issues for this demographic. So while this problem is bound to become more visible (pun intended), it’s always been a problem.
Very soon, most of us will become “blind” to the current web while still requiring access to it. Therefore, developers will soon need to build websites that work in as many specific situations as possible. What we need isn’t separate “desktop” and “mobile” webs. We need an “everywhere” web.