Context is Queen

Don’t ignore the mobile context.

The debate about whether or not you should be creating mobile specific content seems to be at an all time high right now. With the release of iPhone people are excited about the mobile web because the device makes it so compelling. At Blue Flavor, we got excited about it too and developed Leaflets, which is optimized for the mobile web and specifically the iPhone.

Sure, I’ve seen the commercial too, with Apple touting the “real” internet. And I see their reason for promoting it. Their logic being is that’s what consumers want, they want the desktop internet on a small mobile device. I don’t buy it.

Context is important and if you haven’t spent a lot of time either browsing the mobile web on iPhone or another device I don’t see how you can honestly say it isn’t.

People have been loving Leaflets and it’s because the content they can view through with is optimized for their mobile context—their iPhone.

I agree, people want to be able to get to the “real” internet or desktop websites when they have to and having a great browser to do just that is fantastic, but even as great as the Safari browser is on iPhone it’s still not a great user experience to be viewing desktop websites on. The load times can be slow, especially over EDGE. Scrolling can result in accidental tapping and little link targets aren’t designed for big fingers. And for devices with GPS or location based services content in context gets even more exciting. Providing users with content that is in context of where there viewing is important—extremely important.

Ignoring the mobile context for ideological reasons because of some “one web” debate is almost as bad as ignoring the fact that content is king.

July 19th, 2007


context, design, mobile


01 July 20th, 2007

Jorge Quinteros

Very interesting and valid point. The idea of being able to view real HTML pages on your iPhone is amazing and certainly what we the audience have been asking for but I think there’s also room for direct mobile development.

02 July 20th, 2007


I think the real web, uncrippled, on a phone is the first step. I’d rather have a bad experience, but still have access to how a site works on my desktop. The next step is tailoring that experience, and that’s what you’re talking about, Tom. Yeah, buddy.

03 July 20th, 2007

Tom Watson

AdamD: Exactly, having access to an uncrippled experience is important, but having a more tailored, context aware experience is even better.

04 July 20th, 2007


My only gripe with a mobile version of a website is when many of the functions available on the desktop site are left out of the mobile version unnecessarily.

Real life example: I am addicted to Twitter. I use Twitterific when I’m sitting at my desk to get notifications on updates.

One day, I left my desk, and while walking down the street decided I wanted to turn on mobile notifications to my phone. I went to only to find the mobile version of the site so limited, there’s no way to get to your settings. I tried to get to the regular, but my phone is not that cool and couldn’t load the whole page.

There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to edit my notification settings from my phone.

05 July 20th, 2007

Tom Watson

Sarah: I agree, in your example should allow you to change your notification settings from the mobile version of the site.

To prevent oversights like this they should also provide a link back to the full version of twitter right from the mobile version. Sure, the experience there won’t be great and you might not even be able to access it on all devices. But, if your device allows it, you’ll be able to change your settings and move on to a less distracting day.

06 July 21st, 2007

Cameron Moll

If I may offer this slight correction: Context is KING.

It’s an argument I make in my upcoming book, and the point in regards to mobility is this: Your content is of little value to users if it ignores the context in which it is viewed, manipulated, and processed.

Ignore context and it won’t matter how good your content is.

07 July 22nd, 2007

Frederick Townes

I agree with Cameron. We all hit go on our web browsers to consume content and content should be delivered in ways that compliment the platform on which it’s being consumed.

I’m looking forward to a fresh approach to consuming web content that doesn’t require web developers to build different sites for each user agent (as is sometimes the case) and I think that will happen the same time that mobile device mfgrs take better stock of what mobile users are actually expecting out of devices.

08 July 22nd, 2007

Tom Watson

Cameron: Obviously we agree that content and context are both extremely important, so it’s mainly just a semantic niggle at this point but I stand by my point that context is queen.

Yes, your content should always take into account the context of what you’re writing for. Writing for the web is different then writing for print, email, or yes the mobile web, but that’s just part of content being king. To take the analogy a bit too far, the idea is that content is king, context is queen and the two are incredibly intertwined, married, and both ruling together in one communication castle.

Regardless, cheesy analogies aside, we both agree ignoring the context in which something is being consumed is a terrible idea.

09 July 27th, 2007

Rob Goodlatte

I agree that context is extremely important. But I think the iPhone, because of it’s impressive browser and large screen, may span across different usage contexts than your standard cell phone.

Most mobile browsers are a real chore to use, and so I really only used them in a utility fashion in an emergency.

With the iPhone, I may be up for a bit more browsing, and for that reason I don’t want to be sent to the crappy, stripped down mobile version that gets sent to every other phone. There’s definitely a middle ground where contextually-irrelevant info and features can be pared away from sites to work well on the iPhone.

The introduction of the iPhone is changing the mobile web, and I don’t think we know all the contexts in which the web is going to be used on it yet. Regardless, it’s cool to have access to more-or-less the same rendering engine we have on a Mac on a phone, even if we build things differently for it.

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