Heal Your Church WebSite

Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

iPhone & your church web site, iPhone & usability, iPhone article round-up

Later today, alot of folks will be shelling out almost $600 to adopt Apple’s latest offering, the iPhone. A device that consolidates three popular mobile applications onto a single platform – delivered via a radically re-factored user interface built on top of touch screen technology. And while it may seem like a fad for now, I have reasons to suspect that it will have a significant impact on how we present our churches and charities online.

With it’s release imminent, I spent the past few days reading alot of blogs and watching alot of video on the iPhone. Not as some propeller-headed geek who wants to strut about his/her local Makers meeting with the latest in nerd toys – but as a product management director for a growing and successful software as a service company.

Meaning, those who don’t take into account disruptive innovations such as the iPhone run the risk of being ‘Left Behind.’

What it means to your church web site:

While many of us whom preach and practice usability are in a position to sit back and observe how the iPhone will shake out over the next couple months, I do think there are those church webmasters who need to wake-up and smell the incense ASAP, including those who:

  • render their church website using FrontPage, Word or Publisher;
  • rely on heavy doses of Flash to support simple navigation;
  • still insist on offering splash pages;
  • turn their home pages into splash pages with gratuitous Flash;
  • insist on putting a huge image of their church on the front page;
  • haven’t at least transitioned to HTML 4.0 Transitional;
  • rely heavily on using tables for rendering layout;
  • have a home page that leads off with a Spurgeon-eswue mission statement;
  • offer home pages deliver MIDI and/or scrolling marquees;
  • continue to represent text with images;
  • insist on pushing everything to PDF;
  • employ frames;

It is not that the iPhone can’t, won’t render such bad design practices – but rather the fact that pages that look bad on a 21″ flat screen at 1280×1024 pixels are going to look horrible on a miniaturized (zoomed-out) 3.5 at 320×480 pixels.

What it means in terms of usability:

The way to get around this is to adopt some good usability practices.

  • Putting your best and most sought after content up front;
  • Using CSS for layout instead of font, table and other non-semantic taggery;
  • Making sure images are physically reduced before rendering;
  • Compartmentalizing content into reasonable sized pages supported with common-sense navigation;
  • Removing any gadgets, gizmo or graphic that doesn’t support the site’s conversion goals (to get people in the door);
  • Testing your page on as many browsers as possible in as many sizes as possible; and
  • Testing your web site against tasks your ave rage visitor seeker to accomplish, and not what the resident geek thinks is cool or artsy.

Oh sure, there’s plenty of other suggestions I can make, but I figure better to walk before we crawl. And while some may rationalize against such efforts because:

  • the church is short staffed;
  • the pastor likes it that way;
  • they have more important things they’re working on; or
  • it is what inside the church that counts;

I’d counter that anything that turns people way is contradictory to the servanthood-related tenets defined in Scripture – especially something so fixable as the usability of one’s church web site.

Otherwise, why not dump last week’s kitchen garbage in front of the door to the chapel and call it ‘art?’

Getting back to the iPhone:

Apples iPhone

Here’s what I think will be the immediate impact of the iPhone:

quick adoption by competitors
Unlike personal computer manufacturers, the mobile phone industry moves hazardously fast, adopting competitive trends at break-neck speed. Meaning, don’t think that there aren’t iPhone-like implementations of the BlackBerry, Treo and/or Razr in the works. I’ll guarantee you they’re already in beta, if not just waiting to see how all this shakes out for Apple;
more software as a service
I’ve read some beefs about the lack of applications offered for the iPhone, but I don’t think this device needs a ‘killer app‘ to make it work. For example, providers of browser-based office suites such as Zoho and Google Apps are well placed to benefit from Apple’s target demographic: the highly-mobile business executive and/or manager and/or college student. Similarly, your pastor may enjoy the ability to leave the laptop at home or office to pickup and finalize documents started on the road;
re-factoring of navigational metaphors
watch the demo, think about how new navigational notions such as ‘flicking’ and ‘pinching’ … or graphic conventions such as transparent shortcuts of phone-related activities displaying during the course of a conversation … or confirmation through sliders;
more minituarization of media
thinks small media, YouTube sized media if you want. Think 10-15 minute sermonettes that look good on a 3.5 screen, as I’m sure the makers of television and film are already thinking along these lines. Might wanna put your podcasts on a diet too;
location, location, location
geolocation is already here, the iPhone will help Google push it to it’s next level. Tim Bednar offers great advice on how to take care of that today.

Again, there’s plenty more – but my job here is just to get to you start thinking differently about your church web site’s goals – and whether or not its current implementation will support emerging trends in how seekers use the web.

iPhone Article Roundup:

Here are some articles to get you thinking along those lines:

As always, your comments and linkage are appreciated.


Hmmm … something this ‘BlackBerry’ killer can’t do that my crufty old 7130e can:

“iPhone doesn’t support the concept of selected text. That means you can’t just select a specific portion to quote of the message you’re replying to; nor can you select a chunk of the quoted message and delete it while editing. ” – Daring Fireball: iPhone First Impressions (hat tip Mark Pilgrim).

More later …


  1. Dean,
    Nice post! I’ve seen tons of iPhone noise lately and this was anything but. Thanks for posting solid content and asking good questions. I’m linking to you right now.

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