Smartphones and the Trials and Tribulations of Mobile Emulators

Lee Zoumas - March 1, 2010

Smartphones are becoming more commonplace among mobile phone users these days. People are now relying on them for daily functions such as checking email, running applications and browsing the internet. Most, if not all smartphones come bundled with some sort of web browser. One of the many challenges web developers face is getting mobile websites to render properly amongst the many different mobile web browsers available. A tool that web developers can use to see how their mobile pages will render, prior to implementing in a live environment, is called a mobile emulator.

There are many different mobile emulators, some of which are free, that can be downloaded from the internet. These emulators work fairly well, but I’ve found that they portray a somewhat idealistic view of how certain devices will behave. For example, recently we have begun developing several mobile websites for clients. When a certain website was in the testing phase, we used a variety of different mobile emulators to see how the website would render on the multitude of mobile devices available. One specific device that we tested for was a BlackBerry. The emulator displayed the site just as we intended, but we noticed after we rolled out the site and started testing it on the actual devices that some BlackBerry devices would not render the website properly. After a lot of head-scratching and research, we found that the default settings for some BlackBerry devices turned off critical browser functions, such as CSS and tables, in order to speed up download time. Once we made the necessary settings on the BlackBerry device, the page rendered as intended.

There is still a lot of trial and error when it comes to mobile development. What we have learned, is not to rely so much on mobile emulators, but rather use them as only one part of the testing phase. Of course, you can’t test your mobile websites on all the actual mobile devices available, but in time, you will learn the various nuances of the most widely used ones, so that you can then explain to your clients how to get the most out of their mobile browser.

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