According to Usability Guru Jakob Nielsen, “The phrase ‘mobile usability’ is pretty much an oxymoron. It’s neither easy nor pleasant to use the Web on mobile devices. In our mobile studies, the average success rate was 59%, which is admittedly higher than success rates in the 1990s, but substantially lower than the roughly 80% success rate when testing websites on a PC today.”
The pressure to jump on the mobile experience bandwagon as quickly as possible has created an environment of useless, unusable, and unreliable mobile websites and applications.
Useless: Mobile web experiences tend to be highly task-oriented. You are using your device to find the nearest gas station, the best sushi restaurant, or the score of the football game. Many mobile websites dumb down the user experience and tend to forget about what users actually need or want to do.
Unusable: One of the biggest problems with mobile website and app designs is that they disregard standard design conventions. Users are highly experienced using the Web on a computer and will bring along this mental model when interacting in a mobile environment. Breaking the user’s mental model is the easiest way to introduce severe usability problems
Unreliable: They don’t call it mobile for nothing. Mobile developers often forget that their users are accessing content in an ever-changing environment. They could be accessing your site or app using a high speed Wi-Fi connection, or in an area with a spotty and/or extremely slow connection.
This is not to say that all mobile user experiences are terrible. In fact, many of us only experience some of the best out there, particularly in the app environment. Mobile app stores like those facilitated by Apple and Google take a survival of the fittest approach by promoting only the most successful apps based on user feedback.
Some of the big players like Amazon and ESPN have introduced both useful and usable mobile websites and apps. They aresuccessful because they know what their users want, how to leverage the power of the mobile experience without sacrificing usability, and have performed extensive usability testing to refine their products.
Why You Should Care
Forty percent of mobile consumers over 18 in the U.S. now have smartphones, according to July 2011 data from Nielsen.
You can’t control whether your users view your content via a mobile device. Just because you don’t have a mobile-optimized website doesn’t mean that your users won’t have a bad mobile experience.
Proactively creating a positive mobile web experience can have an immediate and significant return on investment. Research from Google says that 74% of smartphone shoppers make a purchase as a result of using their smartphones to help with shopping [decisions], and 88% of those who look for local information on their smartphones take action within a day.
By providing a quality mobile experience, you will encourage more of your users to take advantage of your services, even when they aren’t sitting behind a computer.
Where to Begin
Mobile user experience should not be an afterthought or just something that you check off on your requirements checklist. It needs to be a part of your organization’s core user experience strategy, and should follow the same user-centered design approach as any product that you release.
Your mobile strategy should include:
Performing initial user research:
- You might think that you understand your users pretty well, but:
- Do you know how they are using their mobile devices and what they are using them for?
- How about how sophisticated or knowledgeable they are using a mobile device?
Creating mobile personas: They should be very much inline with your existing customer personas, but need to reflect the more dynamic nature user. Emphasis should be placed on where, what, and when these types of users will be interacting with your mobile website and/or app.
Conducting mobile usability tests: Before you go too far in the development process, you should perform a usability test on a prototype of your mobile design. Testing should take place on an actual mobile device if at all possible with real, representative users. Companies like UserZoom and MockApp have created mobile testing tools for prototyping and evaluating your designs in the field.
By understanding who your users are and what they want to do you will have a strong basis for developing a mobile website or application that meets the needs of your users. A successful mobile user experience strategy will use mobile technology as a way to enhance your relationship with your customers and to further increase their trust and reliance on you wherever they go.
Director of User Experience
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