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One web experience: why mobile web should be accessible to all device types

Martin Clancy - 15 May 2013
2 min read

Research from IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker released in March, shows that in Q1 2013 smartphones outshipped feature phones globally for the first time.  Some 51.6% of the total phone shipments were smartphones. Probing beyond the glib headlines proclaiming the death of the feature phone, lies a more interesting picture of device diversification.

Outside the fact that there 48.4% of new devices shipped are still ‘feature’ phones, there is still a large existing user base for both feature phones and older devices in use. IDC does not give us an exact definition of the smartphone/feature phone divide, but bear in mind that Nokia does not class its current Asha touchscreen range as smartphones. So you can understand how relative the term is for new devices.

mobile web accessible

Looking at some of the data from our own network of goMobi (now discontinued) mobile sites from around the world, we are also tracking significant mobile web traffic from older devices and feature phones.  For example, browsing from Nokia phones (Nokia N86, Nokia E90 Communicator, Nokia 2610 and Nokia 5130c), remains significant are in many parts of the Middle East, Asia, many parts of Africa and South America as well as figuring in Europe and the US.

As Stephanie Rieger pointed out some time ago in her plea for progressive enhancement, over a third of the entire population of the earth is now connected to the internet.  A far greater number own mobile devices (over 96% by latest ITU figures).  We simply cannot ignore this ubiquity and diversity if we accept the goal of the web is to be accessible to all device types without limits.

Last year Brad Frost wrote on Twitter that “mobile users will do anything and everything desktop users will do, provided it’s presented in a usable way”. That being so, we need to consider users with high end phones as well as those with older phones and all those in between if we want to reach the largest possible number of people (as the large brands do)  in the world and make the mobile experience really useful.