The History and Evolution of The Mobile Web

The History and Evolution of The Mobile Web

The remarkable advancements in the computing power of mobile devices, over the past decade, have had profound influence in the field of web development. At first, ordinary mobile phones were limited devices – mostly being good for just making calls and receiving brief text messages. Today, however, smartphones and tablets have more computing power than the first multi-room mainframe systems did more than fifty years ago. Let’s take a quick look at how the mobile web has evolved and why it has had such a significant impact.

In the mid 00’s, the first devices that offered some type of mobile wireless internet access were high-end flip phones, such as the first generation Motorola Razr, and early smartphones like the Blackberry and Palm Treo. At first, the mobile web was slow to take off for two reasons –

  1. Custom Code – Developers needed to write mobile-specific interfaces, using custom languages like Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) that were capable of running on small devices.  Because of this, the early mobile internet offered a very limited library of sites because big companies and organizations were the only ones that had the resources to develop these compatible sites.
  2. Limited Computing Power – Since the computing power of mobile phones was still very limited, even for high-end models, the interface for early mobile websites was very minimalistic.  The interface was often nothing more than just text-based content and links, with a few low-resolution images. Navigating these early mobile sites was often cumbersome and frustrating.  Being able to offer reliable internet access anywhere over a cellular connection presented additional technical challenges because connection speeds were slow.

For those reasons, the mobile internet was considered a luxury feature limited only to those who could afford high-end phones, and the often expensive data plans to support them.

Then, in 2007, Apple released the iPhone. One of the most significant features of this device was that it came prepackaged with a mobile version of Apple’s popular web browser – Safari. This application was capable of reading HTML, CSS, PHP, Java, and many other web languages, thus allowing iPhone users to browse the same full-scale web pages as desktop users. With this advancement, smartphone users finally had a TRUE mobile internet, and not just some stripped-down version of the web. The iPhone also had the ability to offer rich HTML email using IMAP or POP3 from most major email hosts including Google, AOL, and Yahoo. These expanded capabilities put the iPhone at least five years ahead of any other mobile phone that was available at the time.

However, with this new advancement came additional technical challenges that needed to be addressed. For example, certain webpage elements, like drop-down menus that used the mouse-hover function on desktops, were not compatible with mobile touch-screen interfaces. Users found some websites difficult or impossible to navigate due to these technical limitations. This required developers to come up with new menus and new user interfaces that worked on mobile platforms.

Connection and download speeds were the next major issues to address. Because mobile users were now able to access the same Web Pages as desktop users, they had additional data to handle, which meant slower download speeds. Thus, the rise of the full mobile web spurred a race among smartphone manufacturers to dramatically improve the computing power of their devices, and cellular service providers to upgrade the capacity of their networks.

Over the next several years, Apple produced succeeding generations of iPhones, as well as the iPad a few years later. Shortly after, other manufacturers began to introduce their own smartphone and tablet models, utilizing Google’s Android mobile OS, to compete with Apple. iOS and Android are now the two dominant players in the mobile market.

Lastly, as web access has increasingly shifted away from home and office-bound desktops to mobile devices, the demand for new software that can run efficiently on responsive platforms has risen substantially. This demand led to the creation of an entire industry in of itself – the App industry.

Today, there are millions of available apps for several categories including education, entertainment, games, business productivity, and so much more, all available from Apple’s App Store and Android’s App Marketplace.

Because the mobile web has evolved so much over the last few years, websites are no longer designed to be viewed on just one or two desktop screen sizes. With so many mobile devices available in several screen sizes, website designs are now more dynamic and intricate than ever and are no longer the stripped-down, limited pages that they were in the flip-phone days.

Emails you will look forward to.

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