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Mobile Web 2009 = Desktop Web 1998

From useit.com:

Mobile Web 2009 = Desktop Web 1998

Mobile phone users struggle mightily to use Web sites, even on high-end devices. To solve the problems, Web sites should provide special mobile versions.

Usability test participants recently attempted to use Web sites on their mobile phones. What a cringeworthy experience—for both users and researchers. In terms of the user experience quality, it was like stepping into a time machine for a quick trip back to 1998. The similarities were numerous:

  • Abysmal success rates. Users fail more often than they succeed when using their mobiles to perform tasks.

  • Download times dominate the user experience. Most pages take far too long to load.

  • Scrolling causes major usability problems.

  • Bloated pages hurt users. Users are frequently stumped by big images or long pages that bury the items they want to see.

  • Unfamiliarity with a browser's user interface limits the user's options.

  • JavaScript crashes and problems with advanced media types, such as video.

  • Reluctance to use Web sites on the mobile for many tasks, especially true of shopping. According to participants, m-commerce has a dark future unless sites improve and earn users' trust.

  • Old-media design. Sites are designed as desktop Web sites, and that's the wrong media form for mobile use.

Testing found three distinct classes of mobile user experience, which are mainly defined by screen size:

  • Regular cellphones with a tiny screen. These devices account for the vast majority of the market (at least 85 percent in some statistics).

  • Smartphones, in a range of form factors, typically with a mid-sized screen and a full A-Z keypad.

  • Full-screen phones (mainly the iPhone) with a nearly device-sized touchscreen and a true GUI driven by direct manipulation and touch gestures.

For the best user performance, different Web sites should be designed for each mobile device class—the smaller the screen, the fewer features and the more scaled back your design. The very best option is to go beyond browsing and offer a specialized downloadable mobile application for the most devoted users. In practice, however, only the biggest and richest sites can afford all this extra work on top of their desktop-optimized Web sites.

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