Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen is admittedly “bullish” on the mobile web. But his recent post bemoans how lacking most web sites are when viewed on mobile devices. For most sites, his prescription isn’t a web design overhaul. Instead, he recommends creating a separate version specifically for the lowest common denominator mobile browser.
To be more precise, he recommends that only if your site is frequented by cell phones and smart phones should you make this investment. “Not all sites need mobile versions,” says Nielsen. “According to a diary study we conducted with users in 6 countries, people use their phones for a fairly narrow range of activities.
“So, because many mainstream websites won’t see a lot of mobile users, they should just adapt their basic design to avoid the worst pitfalls for those few mobile users they’ll get.”
Narrow Range of Activities
So, you may wonder: What is this “narrow range” of activities? The following list is a good summary. These happen to be the “behaviors users engage in when using mobile devices,” as described in the upcoming Usability Week 2009 Conference(s), presented by the Nielsen Norman Group and presented by Raluca Budiu in full-day tutorials.
The course description lists these activities. If your site has users doing any of these 11 activities, seriously consider designing or upgrading a mobile version for your site:
- Navigation to websites on mobile devices
- Direct access
- Browsing for news, entertainment, sports
- Finding specific information (weather, movie times, etc.)
- Transactions (such as online banking and other financial operations)
- Using maps and location information
- Integrating e-mail and contact information with browsing and fact-finding
- Content management (ringtones, photos, etc.)
- Monitoring and communication
- Instant messaging
- Online communities
- Social networks
- Discussion groups
- And more
- Finding information about a product
- Comparing online and in-store costs
- Killing time
- Video, music, and games
- Accessing, choosing, and downloading content
- Accessing nutrition and health information
Far from a narrow range, that seems like a lot of functionality! In Nielen’s Utopia, we’d all be doing most of our work and online recreation from our phones. It seems more like science fiction than a glimpse of things to come.
So why exactly is Nielen so bullish on mobile? Here’s an excerpt of his reasoning in today’s post:
Mobile is the trend of the year in application design. While trends can be wrong, lots of interesting things are happening.
We’re turning a corner in mobile Web usability. Just as Apple’s Macintosh heralded a breakthrough in personal computer usability 25 years ago, its iPhone is pioneering a similar breakthrough in mobile usability today.
The iPhone is certainly not perfect, and competitors could easily make better mobile devices. By “easily” I don’t mean over a weekend. I simply mean that it’s possible to do it given a strong focus on user experience and user-centered design [UCD]; iPhone leaves a lot of ground for improvement. So far, however, iPhone competitors have been disappointing because they haven’t been created with UCD.
He goes on to write that, whereas mobile browsers may improve over time, it is the user experience designed into mobile web sites that will lead the way in the short-term. He explains, “There is immense potential for advances in mobile usability as more website, intranet, and enterprise software designers build mobile versions and revamp their current designs for usability.
“The mainstream Web’s state in 1998 actually provides a hopeful precedent: just a year later, in 1999, interest in Web usability began to explode as Internet managers realized how chasing ‘cool’ rather than usable design yielded poor business results.”
Nielsen concludes by stating that he hope history repeats itself. As we marketing technologists struggle to deliver more value with every customer contact (in today’s economy more than ever!), I see this being likely to happen.