Tuesday, 25 August 2009

If the "next small thing" in IT is the Smartbook, who's going to address the underlying issue that will plague users of an always-on "thin device you can balance on your fingertips"? Which is, of course, that most web pages are designed for a 17-inch screen. David Firth, who wrote the article, ignores this stumbling block.

Or maybe he has never tried to browse the internet using a mobile phone, as I have. When I got a new Nokia recently, it came with a Facebook option. I relished this inclusion as I was staying in a Brisbane hotel at the time and was away from my trusty desktop. But I found the experience less than satisfactory.

Processing speed is a major drawback for mobile phone net browsing. Combine slugishness with an interface that lacks an independent scrolling device - a mouse - and you get truly clunky interaction, snail-slow download speed, and restricted options in terms of interactivity.

The screen is just too small. Layout of Facebook on a mobile phone means the interface in very few ways resembles that which you use on a computer. This means that the typical click paths you are used to using on a minute-by-minute basis to get where you want to be, are fatally compromised.

You can see messages but it's not clear which ones are new and which have been there since your last session. You can see status updates and whatnot in the news feed, but the miniscule screen means reading is difficult. Why would these problems go away once you're on a "fingertip"-sized interface?

Now that I have a 23-inch screen, I'm even less likely to be satisfied with a Smartbook-sized interface. The new screen allows me to sit back in my chair and put my feet up on the desk while reading the text online at 125% of default resolution. After this type of comfort and convenience why would I be satisfied with a cramped screen and touchpad?

Until software developers start making web pages that include a design for small-screen browsing, this problem will just not go away. If performance were the only thing getting in the way of a good experience with a small screen, it would be enough to put me off. But add to this the utter mismatch between what's written in the code and the screen dimensions, and you have a perfect storm of frustration.

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