Friday, June 08, 2007

Vodafone and the "Mobile Internet"

Wednesday seemed like a normal day at first - then we started getting the first reports of content not being correctly delivered to Vodafone contract customers and so the fun began!

I should say from the start that I actually think that what Vodafone are trying to do, provide sensible access to the "real" internet across the majority of phones, is a very laudable thing. Unfortunately it is also very hard to do right - as they have discovered.

The basic principle of their system is to pass all web traffic from phones on their network through a number of transcoders which both try to reduce the size of any images etc in the pages, and make the layout easier to browse on a standard xhtml handset.

They key problem is deciding when to do this. They are taking the approach that since the majority of named sites are non-mobile they will assume that any site they don't specifically know to be mobile should be run through their transcoders.

Initially all hits to our sites were coming through

They do allow users to choose whether or not they see a transcoded or raw view - but this is expressed along the lines of an "optimised for mobile" view vs a "PC" view - the vast majority of users will plump for the first without understanding the implications.

As I said at the start I do see the reasoning behind their overall direction - now the "but"s!

Key things they have done badly wrong at a practical level are to roll out a system with this fundamental an impact ...
  • without warning anybody in advance
  • without full testing - since if they had tested it many of these issues would have been obvious
Rather poor for an organisation as substantial as Vodafone. At the time of writting if a Vodafone customer were to purchase a media product and download it to their handset they would not get the media they had paid for - Vodafone takes the real media and delivers something inferior in its place. Not a great way to increase user confidence.

Looking at the wider view it is at best questionable for Vodafone to unilaterally set aside the usual standards and conventions to impose their view of what people should see when viewing the web through the Vodafone network.

That said the whole area of the mobile web is necessarily a process of compromise.


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