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Porting a Web Site to a Cell Phone

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Porting existing Web services or sites for cell phones can often be a good choice, and the porting can be relatively easy if the existing web site has been well-designed. Mikko Kontio takes a closer look at porting an existing service (a Web site) for a cell phone.
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Developing cell phones to be multifunctional personal tools has led to the possibility of offering services suitable for these new devices. As history shows, no technology is important if there are no valuable services for it. (Wireless Application Protocol [WAP] was one of the biggest disappointments in recent history, mostly because of expectation hype.)

There are two ways to offer services for new kind of devices: to develop completely new services based on new ideas or to port existing services. Sometimes, new devices are so interesting that they sell based on fresh ideas, but customers have to get used to them and need to learn when and how to use them. Porting an existing service, Web site, or program is a lot more secure because it already has users and a place in the market.

In the end, it is always a matter of the quality of the idea. If the idea behind the service or a product is easy to understand and use, it will be a success.

This article takes a closer look at porting an existing service (a Web site) for a cell phone. We'll discuss the obvious choices for user interface, the differences between typical computer input devices and a cell phone, and the importance of a good architecture.


This article does not focus on any specific type of cell phone (phone model or phone generation).

Differences between Web UI and Cell Phone UI

The typical computer or device to view Web contents is usually a desktop computer, and there are some remarkable differences between the cell phone user interface and desktop computer.

The desktop screen and the cell phone screen have quite different requirements. The cell phone screen must be able to tolerate scratching, being dropped, moisture, cold weather, and other problems—and it must also consume very little power. The desktop screen doesn't have these limitations, so it can be bigger and show better graphics.

Other important differences are the input devices. The desktop computer typically has a keyboard and a mouse, and the user can easily use both hands to enter data or control the system. With cell phones (and mobile handsets in general), input devices are more limited. There can only be number keys from 0 to 9, arrow keys, and some additional control keys. For example, typing text for memos with these few keys is neither convenient nor fast. Cell phone screen sizes and input keys are best when used for simple actions such as browsing menus or small pages.

There is also a significant difference in download times between desktops and cell phones. A picture, which looks good and downloads fast on a desktop, doesn't fit the screen and takes ages to download on a cell phone.

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