Web sites that do mobile right

Apps are great, but they tie you to a specific device. These sites work well for any modern smartphone

It's easy to forget that when the iPhone first came out, Apple didn't have apps. It promoted the development of mobile-friendly Web sites that used JavaScript and other basic Web technologies to provide both content and functionality. As you'll see in the screenshots later in this article, you can have good mobile Web sites if you design them right. Ironically, apple.com is not at all mobile-friendly -- a flaw common to most tech vendors' sites; IBM.com is a partial exception.

A year later, Apple introduced the App Store, and most people forgot about mobile-friendly Web sites. That's too bad. There are some great iPhone apps you can use instead of going to popular Web sites -- such as the New York Times, NPR, Amazon.com, LinkedIn, and Google Earth -- but the truth is that most Web sites don't come as apps, so mobile users are typically frustrated when visiting them. It was cool to navigate the New York Times site in your hand when the iPhone first came out, but two years later it's not so satisfying, especially after having used the Times Phone app.

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Plus, having an iPhone app does you no good if you have a BlackBerry, Palm Pre, or Android device -- and the apps for these other devices are rarely as good as those for the iPhone.

It's time to rediscover mobile-friendly Web sites, those that automatically deliver a version optimized for the mobile screen found in the iPhone, Android, WebOS, and similar large-screen devices (and yes, with an option to go to the full "desktop" site if you want). The sad truth is that there aren't many good ones available.


My favorite mobile Web sites are truly optimized for the mobile experience; they do more than reformat the site so that the text falls in a skinnier column and excludes all the navigation and advertising "framing." Sites like Slashdot.org and Cnet.com offer that kind of basic mobile optimization, but they typically have tiny text and hard-to-use navigation links or -- like CNN.com -- oversimplify the presentation and navigation options. They're basically standard Web pages designed for a 320-by-480-pixel screen, and they make you work too hard to get what you want.

Others, like IBM.com and Sears.com, have pretty good UI for mobile usage -- except that there's endless drilling down that makes them a pain to use.

Still, these less-than-successful mobile sites are usually better than their counterpart desktop sites on a mobile device.

Here are some of my favorite mobile-optimized sites, in no particular order. (If you can't see the example screenshots, go to the original article at InfoWorld.com.) As a user, you'll enjoy them. As a Web site developer, they should be your models.

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