The world has changed considerably since the launch of the first internet browser three decades ago, and so has the Web (aka Word Wide Web) itself. The ever-increasing numbers of Internet users around the world have been the driving the development of the Web, which is the most common way of accessing information over the Internet.
The Web’s HTTP protocol, which is one of the numerous languages used on the Internet, is by far the most widely used data transmitting technology. HTTP enables a broad range of web services to exchange business logic between the applications. It also enables the web apps to communicate and share the information. The Web browsers, which are the primary tool used to access the net, are also a type of web apps that access Web documents called Web pages that are linked to each other via hyperlinks.
The Web has undergone a radical change with the advent of mobile. The ability to access the net on mobile through responsive websites , which have been built with a primary focus on the mobile platform, maximized our dependence on the Internet. The mobile-browsers, giving users the ability to access the Internet services from handheld mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, have gradually led to the evolution into the mobile web.
The popularity of multi-touch smartphones, with significant advancements in the computing power, has already accelerated the growth of mobile Web. It has also changed the way users accessed the Internet a few years ago. Mobile Web documents are more visualized and contain a wide variety of content such as graphics, text, sounds, and videos. It has been possible due to the remarkable development of the wireless internet and the computing power of mobile devices.
The mobile web was slow to take off in its initial stages. The early cell phones had insufficient computing capabilities. Even the high-end models could only provide limited web-connectivity and had a primitive interface. The browsers couldn’t handle anything more than just text-based content and links and could stream only a few low-resolution images. Using such interface with a small screen made navigating the early mobile sites highly cumbersome and frustrating. Lack of cellular infrastructure was one of the many reasons for minimal availability of reliable internet access anywhere and these technical challenges led to slow connection speeds.
Another primary issue was the huge dependence on custom code. Lack of advanced development platforms made developers code the mobile-specific interfaces from scratch, which was done using custom languages like Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). While these custom languages could handle the logic of basic apps on small devices, it was not feasible to create high-end apps with more complex logic.
Hence, the early mobile web offered a very limited library of sites that could be browsed on the basic devices. Therefore, only big organizations were the only ones that had the resources to develop and use it. The expensive data plans were the other reason for considering the mobile internet as a luxury feature. But all that changed in 2007 when Apple released its iPhone.
The iPhone was one of the first phones to introduce a mobile version of a web browser, the Apple’s own Safari. Having the ability to read various web languages such as HTML, CSS, Java, PHP, etc., the browser enabled the users to access full-scale web pages the way they could on their desktop or laptop. It was the first true experience of a mobile web, which was not a stripped-down version of the big-screen devices. These features expanded capabilities of a mobile device, which was the beginning of the Smartphone revolution.
It set the stage for the evolution of web specifically for mobile, which led to addressing the key technical challenges such as finding an alternative to some key web page elements. For instance, features such as drop-down menus using the mouse-hover function on desktops were not compatible with touch-screen interfaces. These technical limitations made some websites not just difficult but even impossible to navigate. Subsequently, new menus and user interfaces that worked on mobile platforms were developed for mobile centric web pages, and developers shunned the traditional practice of developing websites only for desktops.
The next set of challenges that had to be addressed was the download speeds and connectivity. The ability to access the additional data in the form of increasing mobile sites meant the improvement of not just the devices but also the cellular networks. The increase in processing speeds became a necessity which initiated a pursuit for improved hardware specifications – a trend that could continue into the foreseeable future.
Today, as the computing power of Smartphones is on par with big screen devices, the mobile web has become an integral part of almost every industry including education, finance, entertainment, etc. The mobile web has for sure come a long way from a handful library of mere text based web pages to an expansive web of complex and dynamic websites that now define our digital outlook.