Best practices for the Mobile Web

As I have occasionally mentioned (in The freedom of mobile Internet access, for instance), I frequently use my mobile phone to browse the Web. It works really well on modern sites that are accessible, use semantic markup, and separate semantic and presentational markup. It works reasonably well on many other sites, and is a real hassle on most sites.

There are differing opinions on what is the best way of catering to people using mobile phones and other handheld devices to access the Web. I believe the One Web principle is worth working towards, while others think handhelds and desktop computers should get different content. I personally much prefer getting the same content whether I am using my phone, my iBook, or my desktop Mac.

Anyway, for anybody interested in reading up on current best practices for building websites that will work well on mobile devices, the W3C document Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 (currently in Candidate Recommendation status) contains plenty of good advice.

There is a free-standing Summary of Statements that outlines the advice given in the Best Practices document. If you take a look at that document you will notice that lots of the advice will also improve accessibility in other contexts. A few examples (there are many more):

  • Link target ID: Clearly identify the target of each link.
  • Pop ups: Do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the user.
  • Scrolling: Limit scrolling to one direction, unless secondary scrolling cannot be avoided.
  • Use of color: Ensure that information conveyed with color is also available without color.
  • No frames: Do not use frames.
  • Tables layout: Do not use tables for layout.
  • Non-text alternatives: Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element.
  • Objects or script: Do not rely on embedded objects or script.
  • Valid markup: Create documents that validate to published formal grammars.
  • Control labelling: Label all form controls appropriately and explicitly associate labels with form controls.

I can testify that new windows are even more annoying in a handheld browser than in a desktop browser. I use Opera in my Nokia 6680 and it does display a menu of the "windows" that have been spawned, but it's very difficult to notice that a new window has been opened to begin with. Just don't do it, unless you really have to.

Since catering to mobile phone users may well be seen by some organisations as more important than making their website accessible to all, let's hope they take the advice in this document to heart. In doing so they will improve accessibility for all, whether they like it or not.

Posted on October 26, 2006 in Accessibility