Scott Hanselman

Create a great mobile experience for your website today. Please.

April 24, 2012 Comment on this post [32] Posted in ASP.NET | HTML5 | Mobile
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People are fascinating with making mobile web sites. It's amazing that we're not impressed with the fact we carry tiny supercomputers in our pockets but we're amazed when a website looks decent on our phones.

There's a few directions you can go when going mobile for your site, and the key is finding balance. You can:

  • Do nothing. Your site will probably work on a mobile device but each day it will look worse and worse to a discerning public with increasing expectations.
  • Use Adaptive/Responsive Design. This is my favorite option. If your site is read-mostly (rather than a data-entry application) you can get a great experience on all devices by adaptively rendering your site based on screen-size. If you're focused on performance you can add a server-side component and resize image for mobile as well. Visit for inspiration.
  • Use a mobile framework. There's lots great frameworks like Sencha, Kendo, jQuery Mobile and others. These frameworks can get you near-native looking applications using HTML5 techniques.
  • Write a native app. For the time-being while it's cool to try to get native experiences using non-native tools, it's hard. The best native experience on a mobile device will remain a native-built application. This requires the most work with arguably the best experience. However, you CAN get 90-95% of the experience with less than 90% of the effort if you use some of these other techniques. Plus, you'll anger fewer users by not forcing them to download a crappy mobile app by just making a lovely mobile website.


If you take a moment and visit my site (this site) on your phone, or just resize the browser to a smaller size, you'll see that this blog is using a "responsive design" by designer Jeremy Kratz. The blog will change it's look based on if it's on a large monitor, an iPad or medium tablet, or a narrow phone. Watch the navigation bar turn into a drop down as the browser gets really narrow, for example.

My site's responsive design, as featured on the site

This was a relatively small - although thoughtful - change that instantly made my blog more accessible to the 8% of people who visit my site from a mobile device.

For larger data-focused sites, or sites that are "almost applications" you will want to consider a custom mobile version of your site. This is often done with the help of a mobile framework as mentioned above. I'll use jQuery Mobile as an example here. Let's say I have a conference browser application that looks like this on the desktop. I can navigate by date, speaker, tag, as well as view session details.

My site looks lousy on an iPhone

If I look at this same page on a mobile browser or something like the Electric Plum Mobile Simulator, it looks like crap.

Electric Mobile Simulator

I could use a mobile custom stylesheet just for phones, or I could use a CSS3 media query to make my existing stylesheet more mobile friendly...for example:

@media only screen and (max-width: 1024px) and (max-height: 768px)
/* do something, hide something, move something */

Or I could use a mobile framework along with a display mode in ASP.NET MVC to render a different view while still using the same controller logic. For example, I could have a _Layout.cshtml (that's like a "master page") and then a _Layout.Mobile.cshtml for mobile devices.

A Views folder with optional *.mobile.cshtml files for each mobile view

Mobile is just a included "display mode." You can create your own however you like. Here's one for Windows Phone. You could theoretically have ones like "tablet" or "nokia." I think you should have as few as you can get away with. Try to avoid complexity. This is just an example.

DisplayModeProvider.Instance.Modes.Insert(0, new DefaultDisplayMode("WP7") {
ContextCondition = ctx => ctx.GetOverriddenUserAgent().Contains("Windows Phone OS")

That "WP7" string is what you put in place of * in filename.*.cshtml. So that's _Layout.WP7.cshtml, or Index.WP7.cshtml, etc. For my example I'll just make a _Layout.Mobile.cshtml that will automatically be used when most mobile browsers like Mobile Safari, Blackberry or Windows Phone hit my new site.

Here is a new _Layout.Mobile.cshtml as a starting point for my conference browser mobile site. Remember that you can just File | New Project in Visual Studio with ASP.NET MVC 4 and select Mobile Site to get started on your own.

<!DOCTYPE html> 
<meta charset="utf-8" />
<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="@Url.Content("~/Content/")" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="@Url.Content("~/Content/Site.Mobile.css")" />
<script type="text/javascript" src="@Url.Content("~/Scripts/jquery-1.6.4.min.js")"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
$(document).bind("mobileinit", function() {
// jQuery Mobile's Ajax navigation does not work in all cases (e.g.,
// when navigating from a mobile to a non-mobile page), especially when going back, hence disabling it.
$.mobile.ajaxEnabled = false;
<script type="text/javascript" src="@Url.Content("~/Scripts/")"></script>

<div data-role="page" data-theme="a">

<div data-role="header">

<div data-role="content">
@RenderSection("featured", false)


Now that I have a custom for mobile, THIS file will be used when I hit the site on a mobile device rather than the main _Layout.cshtml.

OK, here my application is using the mobile layout, but the existing session HTML which looks, again, like crap. I'm using a mobile layout with a desktop view.

Electric Mobile Simulator Sessions

The desktop view for a session uses a table (and that's OK you tableless-CSS people because it's a table of information):

@foreach(var session in Model) {
<td>@Html.ActionLink(session.Title, "Session", new { session.Code })</td>
<td>@Html.Partial("_SpeakersLinks", session)</td>
<td>@Html.Partial("_TagsLinks", session)</td>

But I need a cleaner mobile layout that respects a smaller screen size. I'll copy my SessionsTable.cshtml and make a SessionsTable.Mobile.cshtml with contents like this:

@using ConferenceSessionsBrowserMvc4.Models
@model IEnumerable<Session>


<ul data-role="listview">
@foreach(var session in Model) {
<a href="@Url.Action("Session", new { session.Code })">
<p><strong>@string.Join(", ", session.Speakers)</strong></p>

There are a few things to note in this HTML. First, I like that it's not littered with CSS that describes the look and feel of the site, but rather it uses the data- attributes from HTML5 to express the "role" of an element. The UL uses data-role="listview" that tells me it's a listview but doesn't dictate what it looks like.

Within the UL I've got some LIs that use standard semantic tags like A, H3, and P along with STRONG and along with the default theme it looks nice on mobile.

A nice mobile view using jQuery Mobile

ASIDE: See the the "Displaying mobile view" link at the top of the image there? With ASP.NET MVC 4 you can make a View Switcher easily with a partial View like this:

@if (Request.Browser.IsMobileDevice && Request.HttpMethod == "GET")
<div class="view-switcher ui-bar-a">
@if (ViewContext.HttpContext.GetOverriddenBrowser().IsMobileDevice)
@: Displaying mobile view
@Html.ActionLink("Desktop view", "SwitchView", "ViewSwitcher", new { mobile = false, returnUrl = Request.Url.PathAndQuery }, new { rel = "external" })
@: Displaying desktop view
@Html.ActionLink("Mobile view", "SwitchView", "ViewSwitcher", new { mobile = true, returnUrl = Request.Url.PathAndQuery }, new { rel = "external" })

And a ViewSwitcherController to change the "overridden" browser when you click the link. This is all in the jQuery.Mobile.MVC NuGet package that we will update for the final release.

public class ViewSwitcherController : Controller
public RedirectResult SwitchView(bool mobile, string returnUrl) {
if (Request.Browser.IsMobileDevice == mobile)
HttpContext.SetOverriddenBrowser(mobile ? BrowserOverride.Mobile : BrowserOverride.Desktop);

return Redirect(returnUrl);
OK, back to the Dates view. I can apply the same data- jQuery Mobile techniques to other screens, like the list of dates. I've got a data-role="listview" and a data-role="list-divider" as the dates change.
@model IEnumerable<DateTime>

ViewBag.Title = "All dates";
DateTime lastDay = default(DateTime);
<ul data-role="listview">
@foreach(var date in Model) {
if (date.Date != lastDay) {
lastDay = date.Date;
<li data-role="list-divider">@date.Date.ToString("ddd, MMM dd")</li>
<li>@Html.ActionLink(date.ToString("h:mm tt"), "SessionsByDate", new { date })</li>

And get a nice result like this:

jQuery mobile applied to a ListView of dates

You can even get cool data filtering "as you type" features for jQuery Mobile list views by using data-filter="true" on a listview.

data-filter=true in jQuery Mobile

Because these templates are all mobile specific they don't affect the way the site looks on the desktop. Also because these are simply new views for existing URLs and Controllers, I don't need write any new business logic.

It is worth reminding you that it won't always be the case that an application will have its controllers and URLs map neatly such that one desktop view = one mobile view. Sometimes you may need to split up a complex single page desktop interaction into multiple mobile views. This conference application ended up with six views for desktop and six for mobile (Index, Dates, tags, Session(Detail), SessionsTable, and Speakers.) It's conceivable if the application included data entry that I would need to break up some views as well as create some custom methods just for mobile, although with some planning around User Experience you can usually keep this to a minimum.

If the default browser sniffing that decides what's mobile and what's not isn't enough for your project, consider using a 3rd party database of mobile devices like the one provided by Their mobile framework will help your site adapt to support all mobile devices as they include a database of devices as well as their capabilities. They can even compress images and improve low-bandwidth performance.

They have a NuGet package I can install like this: mobile framework for ASP.NET

51Degrees and libraries like it will add new capabilities to the Request.Browser object. These are just a few examples, there's dozens.

Screen Width: <% =Request.Browser.ScreenPixelsWidth %></li>
Screen Height: <% =Request.Browser.ScreenPixelsHeight %></li>
LayoutEngine: <% =Request.Browser["LayoutEngine"] %></li>
AnimationTiming: <% =Request.Browser["AnimationTiming"] %></li>
BlobBuilder: <% =Request.Browser["BlobBuilder"] %></li>
CssBackground: <% =Request.Browser["CssBackground"] %></li>
CssBorderImage: <% =Request.Browser["CssBorderImage"] %></li>
CssCanvas: <% =Request.Browser["CssCanvas"] %></li>
CssColor: <% =Request.Browser["CssColor"] %></li>
CssColumn: <% =Request.Browser["CssColumn"] %></li>
CssFlexbox: <% =Request.Browser["CssFlexbox"] %></li>
CssFont: <% =Request.Browser["CssFont"] %></li>
CssMediaQueries: <% =Request.Browser["CssMediaQueries"] %></li>

You can use this information on the server side to augment these other techniques. For example, if the requesting device supports CssMediaQueries, great, you should use them, but it not, perhaps you need to fall back to another technique. If you know the screen-size on the server and it's below a certain size you can resize the image before you send it.

Thanks to Jon Galloway, Damian Edwards and Erik Porter for their brainstorming and Steve Sanderson for the sample application.

Sponsor: I want to thank my friends at DevExpress for sponsoring this week's feed. Do take a moment and check out a free trial of CodeRush, one of my favorite products!  Introducing CodeRush by DevExpress. The Visual Studio add-in that helps you create more reliable applications. Tools to build & maintain your code without getting in the way of your IDE.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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April 24, 2012 3:25
Thanks for this Scott, as we're beginning the whole "mobile first" process with all our clients you've just saved me hours ... again ... yet another great reason to follow you!
April 24, 2012 3:51
Thanks for a nice example, Scott!

I wonder, if it is worth effort to create a custom set of *mobile* controllers (say, in "YourAppNamespace.Controllers.Mobile") that inherit your *core* desktop controllers and load mobile versions using a custom ControllerFactory. I mean, I see this is possible and *most likely* will make your controllers' code cleaner(i.e. no "if(mobile)" flags and no *mobile* routes), but not sure, if it is the *intended* way for handling different controller logic between mobile and desktop in ASP.NET MVC + brings a certain amount of similair code between desktop and mobile controllers(that may bring complications during modification).

April 24, 2012 4:16
What's your thought on CDNs like Akamai and mobile detection? It caches the page with server-side execution, so if a person is served a cached version, there's no way to access those properties? The CSS directives work for adaptive design, but most usage I see is to have a separate site as an "m." or "/mobile" site. Thanks.
April 24, 2012 6:25
Mobile frameworks are nice to develop with, but as a user I *really* dislike them. The way they all override all links so they display a "Loading..." thing, and load the new page in AJAX, breaks the stop button, and the back button if you don't wait for the new page to load. And some pages (e.g. if they're quite heavy AJAX applications) just don't load that way, and you get stuck with the "Loading..." view forever.

Also, they all try to look like iPhones, and designing a website to look like an iPhone app is like designing a pizzeria to look like a high-end clothing store. It just doesn't look right.
April 24, 2012 7:06
Thanks for the graph, just in time for my responsive design presentation! You will be cited, of course.
April 24, 2012 7:55
Hey Scott,

I am visiting your website through my Samsung Galaxy S 2 wih Android Gingerbread but it seems media queries doesnt work. It first load mobile optimized then changed to desktop view automatically.

It would be very nice if you could check into this problem as I like your blog even on my Android.

April 24, 2012 8:18
Nice piece. It's so useful to have these topics brought together.

I would say that while Kendo is awesome, it is 100% completely useless in its lack of support for Windows Phone 7. If I am going to spend time writing an mobile interface with native chrome, etc. WHY would I use one that completely ignores a key (but lowly) player? Their "reasons" are just excuses. Compromise would be better than sulking. Really disappointed in Telerik for this.
April 24, 2012 8:23
thanks for brief information, i was not sure how to start to convert my website also as a mobile friendly view website.

Right now I am much more clear, and know what to do.

April 24, 2012 11:12
Great article scott, just one point on which I must disagree with you:

"The desktop view for a session uses a table (and that's OK you tableless-CSS people because it's a table of information)"

You call this a table of information because you made it look like a table, while actually it's a list of sessions. This becomes clear when you see the mobile view. In the mobile view you show it as a list, and it just makes sense. I think you should have a list in both mobile and desktop view (you could actually use one view) and just style it differently according to the device. The meaning of the information does not change depending on the device you are watching it on, so the markup should not change either.

Still, great article though!

April 24, 2012 12:09
There was a channel9 video some time ago by Phil Haack that spoke about this

great stuff in mvc 4
April 24, 2012 15:21
Awesome article. Thanks. The graph in particular is awesome.
April 24, 2012 15:35
@atarikg I had the same with my GS2 and it worked with another browser (sorry don't remember the name).

Now I've ICS on my GS2 and the blog looks great with the default browser.

April 24, 2012 16:18
Is it jQuery mobile that makes your mobile ul look the way it does?

So instead of adding a class to a ul to define how it looks, you add a data- attribute?
April 24, 2012 18:08
I'm going to have this blog entry bronzed and hang it on my wall...
April 24, 2012 20:24
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Twitter's Bootstrap

A fully responsive HTML5 web framework - I suck at web design and it super easy to get started, and best of all all of the out-of-the-box components looks really great.

I highly recommend it.
April 24, 2012 22:44
Great post! Any chance you could offer up the sample app as a download to help newbies get started with this type of project? Thanks.
April 25, 2012 16:12
Thanks Scott. I noticed a typo "date-role" instead of "data-role".
April 25, 2012 18:05
Good ideas, here, but it's a mistake to think of "mobile" as a category, especially if you're thinking in terms of a "mobile" experience and a "standard" experience. So I hit your site with a tablet (which is mobile) featuring a 9 inch, multi-megapixel screen, and I get a crumby "mobile" interface designed for a phone. Wait, I can switch to the "standard" experience. Now I get an interface that's designed for a pixel-precise pointer instead of a blunt finger, doesn't recognize swipes or multi-touch gestures, and doesn't adapt to screen orientation. OK, so add a "tablet" experience. What about web access from your TV, your refrigerator, or (God help us) your Windows 8 device mashup?

We've got to do better than a small set of discrete categories. Beginners, like me, may find this Webmonkey article useful.
April 25, 2012 20:57
@Andy - Agree completely. Everyone is saying 'mobile', when what they really mean is 'phone'. None of the frameworks adequately address 'tablet'. Curious why there are not more voices on this subject, especially with the tablet opportunity in the enterprise. There are really three unique target layouts here: desktop, tablet, and phone.
April 25, 2012 21:23
Mark and Andy - Ahem, hence my chart. ;)
April 26, 2012 0:10
And a fine chart it is Scott. It's just that the title of the article says "mobile" but all the Effort bubbles in the chart are over "phone." "Tablet" get's no Effort, and the web-enabled refrigerator and the Windows 8 conference table with touch screen (like on Hawaii Five-0) are ignored completely.

Mobility is just one of several attributes developers will have to deal with in The Coming Zombie Apocalypse and it's only loosely correlated with issues like screen size and resolution, interaction methods, sensor capabilities.
April 26, 2012 16:54
Scott, thanks for including Tablet in the chart. I was trying to piggy back off Andy's point that the current use of the term 'mobile' has very little to do with the tablet. Andy mentions refrigerators and conference tables, in which he has a point; however, these are devices I don't expect to target near-term in my development efforts.

My focus is B2B/Enterprise, and tablet is the _primary_ target for my apps, replacing previously implemented laptop solutions. Whenever I see reference to 'mobile', I've come to realize that the author really just means 'phone'. This article is a great example. Search for 'mobile' and replace with 'phone' and all will be spot on. (Well, except for the chart.)

MVC's new approach to delivering mobile views would also be improved, IMHO, if 'phone' was used in the filename placeholder instead of 'mobile'. In time I expect 'mobile' to be replaced by 'phone' and 'tablet' (or we might just see 'tablet' added - I know, I can roll my own). On a related note, I think 'jQuery Mobile' could be more appropriately named, 'jQuery Phone'.

Just like your chart, I do see three distinct target platforms here.

Regarding the use of the term 'mobile' instead of 'phone', maybe the problem is really with me; I should just understand that tablets are not really mobile, and I need to take a breath and be patient while we all figure out how to address the tablet as a device.

Thanks again for all of your valuable contributions and for being a MUST READ.
April 27, 2012 3:06
Mark, as long as we're hijacking the comments, let me throw in a couple more points and maybe clarify my rant.

The immediate issue is that the tablet, which is the most significant platform for many of us, falls through the cracks when you have a design based on two view silos labeled "plain" and "mobile." The larger issue is that we're confounding concerns that need to be separated.

The current crop of mobile devices has introduced a number of challenges including small physical size, small pixel counts, touch-based interfaces, and new sensor classes. These issues arrived together on the mobile phone, but they are largely independent of each other and, for the most part, have nothing to do with mobility. That's why I threw in the fridge, which I expect will have a small touch screen, and the Windows 8 conference table, which I expect will have a very large touch screen (and perhaps some brand new sensors and input methods, as well), although neither is mobile.

The biggest issue (and it's a really big one) that I see that's specifically related to mobility is designing for offline operation. Mobile connections aren't always on. That's OK, if you're using an online music app. It's not OK if you're using an application to get an important job done in the deserts of Arizona or the canyons of Manhattan.

Oddly, to me, intermittent connectivity is the one concern that's almost never mentioned in discussions of mobile design.

jQuery Mobile (and perhaps other frameworks, I'm just getting started with this) is attempting to address this issue and, revealingly, is being criticized for being too script and AJAX heavy. I don't have a lot of experience with jQM, as yet, but I suspect they're on the right track.

A robust mobile design isn't going to be realized by tacking "mobile" views onto an otherwise conventional design. It will begin with how data is delivered. In MVC parlance, "mobile first" will start with the Controller, not with the View.

Scott, given the scarcity of information on this aspect of mobile design, why don't you jump in and work your magic? I would love to see a blog post on design for intermittent connectivity.
April 27, 2012 5:22
One thing that infuriates me far more than not catering to mobiles/tablets/etc is 'developers' who (either arrogantly or ignorantly) insist on making Javascript essential for their web site to work at all. If you have any kind of script blocker active and you visit a site only to receive a blank page... instant fail. More frustrating still is when they use Javascript or Flash for things like sidebar links, with ABSOLUTELY NO VALUE ADDED WHATSOVER other than to piss off people like me. Why on Earth would you have javascript:OpenPage('blahblah.html') instead of just using a normal hyperlink? Even the Golden Age of Geocities wasn't this senselessly painful...

Some people should be dragged into a dark deep pit and beaten to death with chunky archaic 1990's web development books.
May 04, 2012 7:36
All very nice, I'll admit, but try it in SharePoint, as my bosses are demanding. Try editing those pages in SharePoint Designer and watch as they get horribly mangled, just like they did in the bad old FrontPage days. Heck, from what I've heard, try it in the SharePoint 15 beta, and you won't have any more luck than I'm having.
Sorry to rain on the parade, but heavy sigh, deep depression.
July 02, 2012 14:13
This is great stuff, but looks like it doesn't always handle things as well as you might like. Take a look at your nuget 2.0 post from 6/27 on an iPhone 4 the package rename shows the old pkg name but cuts off the new pkg names. Also some of your script got cut off as well. This wouldn't be a big problem but I can't zoom out to see it because of the CSS. Is ther an automatic way to handle these too?

August 29, 2012 14:24
Wow i was searching for this, thanks for sharing with us
October 04, 2012 11:24
Hi I am new MVC,but I want to create mobile pages using HTML5,Jquery in MVC
Can you tell me how to create this mobile pages and also where to learn
Give me some examples
October 12, 2012 14:56
Hi Scott,

Obviously your blog is aimed at people with technical expertise. However, as I'm sure those not so experienced in the world of mobile web development may view your "few directions" as definitive. Of course, there are many companies such as Dudamobile, Ginwiz, Contentys, Zimbile, Heart Internet and, obviously our company, that offer simple to use, but relatively powerful, mobile website builders.

We've seen many small companies require mobile websites fairly quickly and don't have the management capacity to spec and commission full-featured websites and feel adding this type of solution should perhaps be included in your list of options.


November 20, 2012 13:17
Nice post. Thanks a lot! Can i use jQueryMobile or Sencha Touch 2? Targeted devices are iPhone and Blackberry, but learning Sencha is not much easier than jQuery. If you have a thought just share :)

March 18, 2013 21:31

Any chance we can get some information on how the unordered list was turned into a dropdown list? There doesn't appear to be a very clear explanation of how that gets accomplished.

I see the data-role attribute, but I'm assuming there's a media query involved with the transformation. Or perhaps I'm just missing something because I'm not familiar with MVC.


Daniel Crane
March 18, 2013 21:36
Daniel - You can just view source. It's a few lines of JS.

Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.