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Tiny sites: a guide to the mobile Web

Tug on your boardies, slap zinc on your nose and let CNET.com.au guide you through the wonderful world of mobile Web surfing.

Mobile sites | Mobile URLs | Best browsers

Considering the importance of the Internet to modern life, accessing the Web using mobile phones would seem a likely and inevitable step forward for the technologically minded.

However, to date there have been some significant hurdles for online services in attracting users to get off their PCs and log onto Web sites on the move.

The biggest hurdle to date, especially in Australia, has been the expense. While most mobile carriers in Australia offer data bundles to compliment standard capped voice plans, there is still major discrepancies between the price of these bundles and the cost of using exactly the same services, offered by the same companies, but via a PC Card rather than a mobile handset. For example, at the time of writing 3 Mobile is offering 6GB of data for AU$49 a month when using a PC data card or USB dongle, and 5GB of data for AU$99 a month when using your mobile handset to receive the data.

The second major obstacle relates to the experience of the Web on a phone. In fact, before Apple released the iPhone you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who was particularly enthusiastic about accessing their favourite sites from their handset. Where the iPhone excels is with the built-in Safari browser offering a near to desktop PC experience of the Web, with the multi-touch interface improving users ability to scan over sites with ease.

Full size websites exacerbate things; they are cumbersome to view on tiny screens and existing browsers often have difficulty rendering these pages properly. In most cases data is charged by the kilobyte, too, and so viewing standard sites can end up being very expensive.

Mobile sites offer a much needed solution. Designed to be viewed on mobile devices, they are typically pared down versions of the original, removing most images and active elements like Web extensions and animations. These adjustments mean around ten to twenty times less data per page than a standard site, improving performance and lowering data cost when using a mobile device.

Best of all, the quality of mobile sites is constantly improving. Read on for a list of our favourite tiny sites.

So you've signed on for a monthly data plan to use on your phone, and now you're asking what's next? Sending and receiving emails is fun for a bit but you need some mobile Web excitement, right? Well, that may be asking for too much, but below is a list of someone of the best mobile Websites we've stumbled across so far.

If you're feeling adventurous, try replacing the "www" prefix with an "m" in the URL of your favourite Website.

 Website   URL   Description 
ZDNet mobile m.zdnet.com.au Tech news ZDNet style.
News.com m.news.com.au National news headlines headlines
The Good Food Guide m.gfg.smh.com.au Reviews of the best and worst restaurants and cafes.
Blocklayer blocklayer.mobi An excellent resource for trades people.
Wapedia wapedia.mobi A portal to Wikipedia for your mobile. Perfect for trivia nights (disclaimer: CNET.com.au does not condone cheating at trivia)!
Skweezer skweezer.net A portal for viewing any site as a mobile site. Very handy.
Google maps google.com.au/gmm Available to download to most handsets. One of the best free mobile apps out there.
Pop Urls popurls.mobi PopUrls collects stories of the cool and quirky from Digg, Del.icio.us and Reddit.
Flickr m.flickr.com Mobile version of the popular photo blog site.
Windows Live Messenger m.ninemsn.com.au/msg Mobile Web client for chatting with friends using MSN instant messenger.
Dictionary.com dictionary.com/wm/ Never look like a philistine again with the mobile version of Dictionary.com
Thumb games thumbgames.mobi If you can put up with a few ads this list of free Java games could keep you amused for days.

This is far from a complete list. If you know any great mobile Web sites be sure to tell us about them in the forums.

Mobile sites | Mobile URLs | Best browsers |

Opera Mini: one of the best new browsers coming later this year

While there are advantages to browsing mobile sites on a mobile phone, the current focus in mobile browser development is on bringing a complete, desktop-like Web experience to your handset.

Built-in browsers on handsets to date have included proprietary browsers often incapable of a rich Web experience, but we are starting to see a shift towards mobile browsers developed by some of the big players in the desktop browser space; namely Opera and Firefox, who both have exciting new software coming to handsets later this year.

Some of the exciting advancements to look forward to include;

Web 2.0/xHTML capability: No longer should images fail to load or pages fail to render correctly. Web 2.0 capable means being able to view Websites on your mobile as if you were in front of a PC. Users will have the option to view a full page or a "small screen" version.

Intuitive navigation: One of the big drawcards for these new browsers is easy-to-use zooming features. Mobile sites often wrap the content of a site into a single column, making it easier to display on smaller screens. Zooming features will let you zoom out, pan and scan over a full page to find a point of interest, then zoom back in for a closer look.

Tabbed browsing: As with desktop browsers, tabbed browsing for the mobile Web was a necessary, and inevitable, step forward. The latest Opera Mini, Firefox, and Skyfire browsers all include tabbed browsing.

Handset integration: An exciting concept for mobile browsing is the ability to integrate the phone's features, like contact lists, onboard camera, and GPS receiver with the browsing experience.

Image saving/text selection: Common desktop functions like being able to save an image and copy text are soon to be common functions in mobile browsers. Being able to send a pic you find with MMS, or dial a number you find online will no doubt be very handy.

A nifty alternative to the big players is the TeaShark mobile browser. Unlike Opera and Firefox which require either the Windows Mobile or Symbian operating platform to work, TeaShark runs as a Java application, meaning it can run on any phone that supports Java. Teashark also features the same great experience, including zooming navigation and tabbed browsing.