However, on the mobile platform, browsing the web leaves a lot to be desired. Today's websites, even those that have launched 'mobile' versions, have a long way to go if they desire to be more usable by mobile users. This is the conclusion of a deep analysis by usability expert Jakob Nielsen. He described his experience conducting his research as "cringeworthy" for users and researchers.
What makes the mobile web so daunting? The report named sluggish download speeds, data-heavy web pages and unfamiliar browser user interfaces as factors that led to poor experiences for mobile web users.
New Hardware Means New Hope, Right?
Apple's iPhone and its Safari browser was advertised as the world's first "full" mobile browser. This is because the iPhone has a large screen and can load an entire web page in the browser without causing the user to do a heavy amount of scrolling. Users can double-tap on an area of the web page and Safari will smoothly zoom in and auto-format the text to be seen in the content window.
To help speed up data access for mobile devices, many mobile network operators are blanketing areas of the world with faster 3G cellular networks, making mobile broadband a reality. Many phones are adding Wi-Fi chipsets to bring ultra-fast data speeds to mobile handsets.
Making the Mobile Web More Usable
So, with screen sizes increasing, mobile web browsers boasting new levels of usability, and with wireless network speeds increasing, how can content managers help push the envelope with mobile web usability?
Consider launching (or re-launching) an entirely separate mobile web site. Strategies are different on the mobile platform and content managers should begin by offering few features, simpler navigation and smaller ads. The best strategy, as pointed out by Nielsen, is to go beyond stripping down your HTML and offer a downloadable mobile application tailored to your web site.
We agree with this customized application strategy. You see, each mobile hardware platform has a custom hardware configuration. For example, an all-touch user experience won't work on a Nokia E Series smart phone that has physical buttons. With a native application, users will find interacting with your web site or web service much more enjoyable. Successful examples of customized applications include the Facebook applications for BlackBerry and the iPhone.
On the flip side, there are 4-5 major smart phone platforms and coding for each of these can be time-consuming and expensive.
The Need Is There
The Apple iPhone has had an undeniable impact on the mobile marketplace. Mobile smartphone adoption has been strong, but the iPhone caused content owners to look at mobile as a viable distribution method worth paying attention to. We, as web site administrators, must strive to meet the needs of mobile users because the platform is going to continue to grow as more cellular customers buy smart phones and start to come online. Nielsen expands on this:
Although devices will get better, the big advances must come from websites. Sites (including intranets) must develop specialized designs that optimize the mobile user experience. Today, few sites have mobile versions, and those that do are usually very poorly designed, without knowledge of the special guidelines for mobile usability.
Have you seen an uptick in mobile usage in your particular environment? What impact has this growing market segment had on your web strategy? Please leave a comment.