Mobile Web Users Need Help

With more and more people accessing the Internet from mobile devices, no one with a website can afford to ignore the mobile web user.

Folowing a recent usability study, Jakob Nielsen noted:

The phrase “mobile usability” is pretty much an oxymoron. It’s neither easy nor pleasant to use the Web on mobile devices.

In the Nielsen study, the average success rate for mobile users attempting to complete an online tasj was 59%, substantially lower than the roughly 80% success rate when testing websites on a regular PC today.

Mobile Problems

Mobile users face four main usability hurdles:

  • Small screens.For something to be mobile, it must be easy to carry and thus relatively small. Small screens mean fewer visible options at any given time, requiring users to rely on their short-term memory to build an understanding of an online information space. This makes almost all interactions harder. It’s also difficult to find room for multiple windows or other interface solutions that support advanced behaviors, such as comparative product research.
  • Awkward input. It’s hard to operate GUI widgets without a mouse: menus, buttons, hypertext links, and scrolling all take longer time and are more error-prone, whether they’re touch-activated or manipulated with a teensy trackball. Text entry is particularly slow and littered with typos, even on devices with dedicated mini-keyboards.
  • Download delays. Getting the next screen takes forever — often longer than it would on dial-up, even with a supposedly faster 3G service.
  • Mis-designed sites. Because websites are typically optimized for desktop usability, they don’t follow the guidelines necessary for usable mobile access.

Mobile Solution

The study concludes that the best way to improve the experience of mobile users is to create mobile-optimized sites. The mobile site should focus on features that people are actually likely to use in a mobile scenario.

Even when companies offered them, users often had trouble getting to mobile sites. The best approach is to auto-sense users’ devices and auto-forward mobile users to the mobile site. You should also offer clear links from the desktop site to the mobile site, as well as a link back to the full site. Nielsen recommends “Mobile Site” and “Full Site,” respectively, for the link labels.