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.

    If you have access to five or six different wireless devices, you can get a pretty good idea of how bad things look. With varying screen dimensions and browser types, things look slightly different on each handset.

    Of course, who has a handful of wireless handsets just lying about? There are some remarkable browser emulators available. One such emulator is downloadable from Microsoft. It runs on your desktop and provides an approximation of what Web sites look like on a handheld phone running Microsoft Mobile Explorer. You can enter a Web address and the animated on-screen phone displays what you would see on the actual handset.

    So, who is doing it right?

    The folks at Google are typically ahead of the game, and the mobile Web is no exception. The metasearch engine's Web site is able to automatically detect many handheld browsers and seamlessly load a beautifully simplified version of their Web site

    The über-hilarious periodical “The Onion” has a version that is dedicated to handhelds (mobile.theonion.com). The mobile version relies exclusively on words rather than images to lampoon every institution, celebrity and politician from the convenience of your wireless browser.

    If you are addicted to broadcast news like millions of Americans, you'll be glad to know there is a mobile version of CNN.com. The CNN handheld Web version is slimmed down on graphics. So whether you want the latest sports or updates on the international scene, you can get it on the go to satisfy your news addiction.

    Even eBay has a trimmed down version. Thank heaven you can check on the status of your cherished auction items from the airport ticket counter. After all, on eBay, timing is everything!

    I'll admit that the Web sites optimized for handheld browsers are not as visually engaging as their desktop counterparts. But, they are beautiful in their simplicity and function. After all, the value proposition for handheld browsing is different than that of desktop browsing by its very nature.

    Will mobile browsing replace the desktop experience? Certainly not. However, it adds an important value to the concept of browsing.

    These mobile-ready Web sites and others who choose to follow, will be able to reach consumers at critical points of contact in their daily lives, rather than while they are sitting in front of a computer. The implication is that the long-sought state of consumer action based on Web information is more likely to be achieved as the Web is taken on the go.

    Is this truly the beginning of viability and usability for handheld mobile Web browsing? The signs have never been clearer. The real question: Is your Web site ready?

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    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.