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WiFi PDA Meets Linux--Part 4 - page 2

Making Web Browsing Easy For The Tiny Screen

  • July 20, 2005
  • By Rob Reilly

As a Linux technology writer, I'm naturally inclined to use Mozilla for my browsing needs, when I'm on my SUSE 9.3 64-bit powered laptop. I've had to settle for Internet Explorer on the iPAQ under Windows Mobile 2003. The browser itself has not created many ease-of-use problems.

What ever their browser, you will have happy users if you streamline several areas of your application or web page design.

Send Your Users A Page Tailored For The Small Screen

When you go to Google on an iPAQ, you get the familiar text box under the normal colorful logo. Figure 1 shows a nice, neat page without any fluff or scrolling needed.

The Google page is a great example of speed and convenience. Does the Google Web server know that I'm on an iPAQ? I don't know, but it's a different page than what's shown in Mozilla on my laptop.

The iPAQ's Internet Explorer has three page layout viewing options that you use to your advantage.

  • One-column � shows pages as a single column with no horizontal scrolling.
  • Default � condenses the page horizontally, to minimize scrolling.
  • Full Screen � presents the page in desktop size with full vertical and horizontal scrolling.

Formatting your pages for One-column mode would be useful for data selection drop-downs and list of things. Images work fine, if they are scaled to fit comfortably within the normal 240 pixel width of the screen, in portrait mode. In Figure 2 you'll see that the image is quite detailed, even in a 200 x 150 pixel size. Sometimes I switch the screen to landscape (320 x 240), but you may not be able to assume that users will always have that option, especially on PDA/cell phones.

Don't Make Users Type Long Strings Of Text

One thing I don't like about the iPAQ is the human-machine interface. The lack of a thumb keyboard or reliable voice recognition makes keying long URLs a real pain. Not only does it take too long with the on-screen keyboard, it's also easy to miss a letter and then have to scroll back to fix the error. Using the handwriting recognizer is worse because you can't use highlighting effectively to correct things. Any scribing with the pen is evaluated as text.

The solution is simple, especially with PHP and other Open Source Web languages.

Provide the user with drop down menus or short text links, whenever possible. I'd much rather tap through several drop-downs or links to find what I need than have to type in words or phrases.

Other PDA Browser Time Savers

Here are a few more tips on making content useful for PDA browser users.

  • Put Important Stuff At The Top: Some Web sites have big logos or useless information at the top of their pages. That's a disaster on the PDA browser. Having to scroll way down the page to get to what the user wants is a sure way to raise their ire.

    If a logo must be used, keep it small and spartan, like the one shown in Figure 3.

    Then get right to the important stuff. The whole reason for browsing on an iPAQ is because it's quick, portable, and convenient.

    LAMP applications lend themselves well to the tiny screen because they deal with specific sets of data, that are generally pretty company-centric. And, pages can be dynamically formatted programmatically.

  • Plan Your Ad Placement: Web pages pose a problem because they are frequently funded by advertising.

    Of course, the advertiser or marketing group will want to splash their ad as the first thing a PDA Web browser can see.

    Perhaps the advertiser's logo can be sized accordingly or a link used instead. Even new PDAs don't have all the computing power of your late model HP Pavilion and large graphics will take a long time download and display, especially if you forget to size them to fit the tiny screen. JPGs seem to be supported natively, in the iPAQ's Internet Explorer. PNGs need to be downloaded to the iPAQ's file store and then displayed using the HP Image zone. Other PDAs may only natively display certain graphics types, in their browsers, as well.

  • Make Site Navigation Easy: Internet Explorer on the iPAQ has a back and home button. It also has a standard history drop down at the top. That's pretty much the limit of built in navigation.

    Given the small amount of screen real estate, it becomes vitally important to create easy and intuitive navigation tools, on the Web page.

    It could be simple things like little arrows or the liberal use of page/next numbers. Having the navigation aids at the top of the page, would most definitely help speed the user to the information that they are seeking.

    You could even integrate icons into your application. For example, in a point-of-sale system for the iPAQ, it might make sense to use icons for commonly purchased items.


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