How Mobile Web Pages Work

To make their pages easy to access on mobile devices, some Web developers pare their content down to just the basics.

Do you remember the Internet circa 1997? Pages were designed for low-resolution CRT monitors and slow modems. Text ruled the Web, and occasional JPEG and GIF images decorated pages here and there. Most of the time we didn't see them, since turning off images was one sure way to eke a little extra speed out of a dial-up modem. More than a decade later, the entire Internet landscape has changed. Broadband Internet via cable and DSL connections is the standard in the developed world, and Web pages can use more complex elements -- tons of images, transparency effects and even video -- to deliver content. We can even stream entire movies from the Internet to our computers without waiting for files to download!

As huge as the shift to higher resolution monitors, broadband speeds and fancy graphical options has been, a second trend has had a major impact on the World Wide Web as it exists today. As phone technology has grown more advanced and less expensive, smartphones have become an integral part of the Internet experience. Mobile devices represent a key gateway to the Web for millions and millions of users who don't own PCs. For example, in India, usage of popular Web browser Opera Mini grew by 300 percent between March 2010 and March 2011 [source: Real Time News]. In many parts of the world, the window to the Internet is not on a 23-inch monitor. It's on a 3-inch phone screen. Even cheap "dumb" phones without touch screens or powerful hardware can surf the Web.

Enter the mobile Web site. Because the popularity of mobile Internet usage has arrived side-by-side with high-speed Internet service and more powerful computer hardware, developers of online content have a unique challenge. Web sites designed for big monitors, fast computers and fast Internet lean heavily on graphics and cutting-edge programming that doesn't always work on the smaller screens and slower networks of mobile devices. The solution lies in mobile Web sites -- pages specifically tailored to work on smaller devices and deliver important content while cutting down on the graphics that slow page loading. Though mobile Web sites are intentionally simpler than full sites, that doesn't mean they're easy to build. Mobile Web sites still require attention to design and technology, and the strict limitations of mobile hardware don't make things any easier.