Your Site On Android

Now that HTC estimates it will sell through over 1 million Android-powered G1 phones this year, Apple and RIM may have a contender on their hands. Everyone I have let test-drive the phone likes the operating system, even if they don't come back with the dazzled google eyes of new iPhone converts. And cool appreciation may be all that the Android OS needs in the end to give it an opening in the market. With multiple carriers and handset OEMs on board, Android has a larger addressable audience than the iPhone and likely appeals to a broader audience than the BlackBerry. After using the G1 for a week, and after more than a year in Apple's orchard, I do not feel I would be giving up much by switching platforms.

But how nicely does this thing play with Web, mobile Web and marketing? I spent a few hours surfing and clicking with the browser to see how it handled a range of sites and ad formats. If the G1 is going to reach the scale HTC is claiming in such a short order, then publishers and marketers, too, should see how their brands look and interact here.

Sites sniff out the Android browser in various ways. In every case I just put in a straight main Web URL into the address bar but got diverse results. Time Warner properties were inconsistent. Time.com and People.com kicked me over to the mobile iterations, both of which scaled their images nicely in portrait mode. CNN, however, pulled in its full site rather than its very usable mobile alternative. As a result, much of the Flash-enabled interactivity and video are broken. The same was true with NYTimes.com, which also served the full site. In both cases, the main page was simply too large and memory hungry to make a smooth full browser experience. Zooming in and out was halting, at best. I mention this not to scold either brand but to underscore just how over-hyped the mobile full Web experience is. For my money, a well-done mobile version of a brand's main site is almost always preferable to the full site in a mobile browser. In an ideal mobile world, sites could detect your browser and offer to serve either version. Or the browser itself could toggle an option that makes it seen online as a mobile device.

Except when the mobile version does not show well on a smarter phone. Going to Alpha Media's MaximOnline kicked me over to the mobile version, which became a miniaturized menu of barely perceptible links into the site's content. Worse, clicking into the text link that invited me to take a Coke vs. Pepsi test simply landed me in a bunch of un-rendered HTML code.

In fact, the mobile conundrum over Web design in a more mobilized world also holds true for advertisers. Full Web browsing on mobile can lead consumers quickly to dead ends. I clicked through on a Disney vacation ad at CondeNet's Concierge only to get dropped onto the Disney Online home page -- all Flash, all broken on this phone. And by the way, if your site uses a large Flash carousel to rotate in feature content, expect it to look like the kids got to the newspaper first and cut out the good stuff. Of course, these same sites look just as bad on the iPhone's full site browser, but in my random testing I found many more sites sniffing the iPhone effectively and redirecting me accordingly.

Curiously, USA Today proved to be one of the most flexible destinations. It served Android an iPhone version of itself that worked exceptionally well, and even gave me the sliding navigation effect. USA Today is among the sites serving advanced iPhone-specific ads that expand over the page and offers direct access to video. On the G1, the special Ford Motors unit couldn't play, but it politely kicked me over to Ford's main site. A specific micro-site alternative to the iPhone ad would have been preferable, but this solution beats the hell out of a link to nowhere.

Mobile ads themselves had mixed performance. A few ads just broke altogether and sent a hash of code. The click-to-call button on People Mobile's Samsung Behold landing page clicked into gobbledygook. Video links are iffy because the native video player doesn't seem as seamlessly integrated as I have seen in some smart and feature phones. CarandDriver.com served its mobile site to me and a text link ad for the Slingbox. The video link to the now-ubiquitous TV-in-Russia Sling ad couldn't decide whether it wanted to run in portrait or landscape mode or just give me a half a landscape image in portrait mode. A Transporter3 video trailer coming off of links on ESPN's mobile site just refused to play.

The obvious lesson in all of this is that marketers and publishers had better grab a G1 and test all of their assets. And don't forget to check all that email marketing. One email marketer recently told me they are seeing a remarkable amount of landing page traffic come from email opened on mobile clients. How many of your email marketing landing page links can sniff out a mobile device? At the very least they should serve this browser a WAP or iPhone version by default and let the user elect to go to a full site. Personally, I think the mobilized full Web experience should be opt-in on most sites anyway.

But more than that, I suspect developers and marketers are going to have to wrench themselves out of their iPhone daze at some point and wake up to the wider range of rich mobile experiences that will have a market impact in coming months. As the G1 promises to sell 1 million units in under three months, and the BlackBerry Storm inspires iPhone-like lines at Verizon stores, clearly something is afoot. What the iPhone helped jump-start -- the real prospect of satisfying and usable mobile data -- others will drive into other lanes.

Tags: mobile
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1 comment about "Your Site On Android".
  1. Grant Braswell from Mediasmith , November 25, 2008 at 12:48 p.m.

    Interesting the iPhone converts have dazzled "google" eyes. Oh the irony...