If your company has a Web site, I have some news for you.

I visited your Web site and it looks like crap. I can't use it. Worse yet, it may not even appear in my browser at all.

No, this is not a joke. And I am not alone in this assessment.

The problem is not going away. In fact, it is getting worse as hundreds of thousands of your Web site visitors are increasingly unable to use or even see your Web site.

You've read about it for years—the speculation and the hype. And, after all of the promises and pitfalls, the wireless handheld Web is finally arriving for the masses. I have seen it and used it. With speeds typically several times faster than dial-up, many Web pages load faster than for most at-home users.

Starting this year it is going to rock your world, Web-wise and otherwise. Here's why it is a finally a reality:

  • Wireless service networks are fulfilling the promise. Domestic wireless networks have committed to the infrastructure for supporting viable Web access. In Europe and Asia, the factors of smaller geography, culture, and government supports have allowed for faster rollouts of advanced networks. It has been slow in coming to America, but there is a lot of geography to cover for wireless networks along with the billions in capital investment required.

  • Wireless handset manufacturers are launching the next generation of devices in droves. Once upon a time, PDA makers were among the few choices for those seeking the “bleeding edge” of wireless. Today, PDA makers are losing ground to major wireless phone makers which are slated to launch hoards of Web-enabled mobile handsets that are more phone-like and boast such features as digital cameras and MP3 playback. A review of current and future devices scheduled for launch can be found at Phone Scoop. Phone Scoop reports on industry announcements, events, and publicly available filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

  • Graphical Web browsers have gone mobile. Soon to be gone are the monochrome creamed-spinach colored screens and the list of text choices that previously defined the mobile Web. Palm and Windows operating systems are being ported to wireless handsets with screens supporting 64K colors. Accordingly, familiar desktop-variety browsers will play an increasing role in the mobile Web experience.

  • PDA phone prices are within reach for many consumers thanks to wireless service contracts. Unlike stand-alone PDAs, wireless PDA phones receive retail price support from wireless carriers in exchange for a service contract—a cost-saving benefit that wireless phone customers have come to expect over the years. Therefore, high-end stand-alone PDAs like the Sony CLIÉ PEG-NZ90 at $699 will likely be undercut in price by wireless PDA handhelds that also offer a wireless phone and Web-access.
  • So what's the problem with your Web site? A combination of things may contribute to a Web site's state of dysfunction on this platform. Here's a short list (but by no means an exhaustive or technical list) of the prevailing issues I have observed for Web sites on handheld browsers:

    1. Too many pixels. Remember the requirements of Web site resolution for the VGA standard of 640 by 480 pixels? Then, the SVGA standard of 800 by 600 pixels? Imagine how your Web site looks on 240 by 268 pixels, or 176 by 280. Not only is it smaller, but most handheld screens are in a portrait orientation, versus a landscape orientation for desktop browsers. (By the way, requiring handheld users to scroll left to right on a Web site is not only a bad idea, it should be grounds for capital punishment.)
    2. Content overload. We have all been taught to write for the Web in bite-sized chunks. Scrolling on a handheld browser becomes cumbersome on Web sites built for desktop browsers. What is bite-sized on a desktop becomes more than a mouthful on a handheld device. On wireless, think of nibbles rather than bites.
    3. Sliced graphics. Many of the handheld browsers will scale down large single images on Web sites. This may render them unreadable, but the problem with sliced graphics is even worse. That beautiful intro graphic on your homepage becomes a jigsaw puzzle on a handheld browser. Web sites optimized for handsets reduce the number and size of graphics.
    4. Technology gap. Handheld browsers are not quite ready for some scripting languages and the massive plug-ins available for desktop browsers. Plain-vanilla HTML and some ASP behave quite nicely on the pocket browsers. However, technologies like Flash, JavaScript and the hundreds of esoteric plug-ins simply are not ready to go on this platform. Nor are some of them necessary or even welcome.
    5. Navigational considerations. If users are looking at a Web site on a handheld, they are probably using a touch screen interface, with or without a stylus. Scrolling is done using the keyboard, an on-screen scroll bar or by dragging on the touch screen. Doesn't sound all that different than a desktop. However, having your menu options load into one screen is important, as is left-side navigation. Also, text is preferred, frames are taboo…and, well, simpler is better at this point in time.

    So how bad does your current Web site look? Depends upon the wireless device and the browser you are using.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Mitch McCasland (mmccasland@moroch.com) is director of insight and brand strategy at Moroch Partners (www.moroch.com) and a leading advocate of using customer insights and competitive intelligence as a basis for brand strategy, advertising, and new product design.