Quiz: Guess what the following links have in common.
If you’re reading this from an iPhone, I bet you figured it out: each one of these links is broken.
When the iPhone debuted nearly three years ago, everyone in the computer industry asked themselves, “What can I do to get on this bandwagon?” The obvious answer for digital publishers was to build iPhone-optimized versions of their websites. After all, though the iPhone had (and arguably still enjoys) the best mobile web experience to date, there were a few obvious shortcomings: a slow Edge wireless network, a slow-ish processor (faster than anything we had seen in-hand, but years behind “actual computers”), and a tiny screen. By offering an optimized site, a content site could offer a superior experience for the end user and enjoy a little sexiness-by-association from the Jesus Phone.
Somehow these efforts were horribly botched, and two years later we’re still suffering them.
These broken links mostly boil down to the websites’ forwarding mechanisms. This is a bit of code that checks the browser and, if it detects an iPhone, forwards to the iPhone-optimized site.
An example: ideally, the Chicago Sun-Times should forward requests for this link…
… to this link…
Instead, the Sun-Times is forwarding every page request to http://mobile.suntimes.com/ (the root “home page” of the optimized site), thus breaking every external link to every single article they’ve published. This is the very definition of a broken website.
Predictably, most of the culprits are media companies who have their roots in print. Scores of newspaper and magazine sites are iBusted. I’ve also found a handful of “new media” sites that also suffer this problem, but they’re mostly idiocy like collegehumor.com. Oh, and Salon. I expected better of you, Salon. AppleInsider, you have no excuse at all.
- Fix your “mobile version.” Repair your htaccess redirect to get deep links working correctly. (Also keep in mind that by even having an iPhone-specific site you have sort of doubled the sheer amount of Website that you’re obliged to maintain.)
- Remember mobile stylesheets?
- Is an iPhone-optimized site even necessary? iPhones and their competikin have gotten wildly faster, and most third-generation handhelds are on snappier 3G networks. And as Ithako (ironically) states in the above article, “it’s better to be good than to be innovative.”
1 bonus silliness: I wasn’t even able to find this article via the Sun-Times iPhone site’s built-in search engine; had to dig around through a maze of categories and screens just to get this link.