Backward thinking on mobile sites

Oh, I hate surfing the web on this mobile phone. I wish I had kept my AOL subscription!

I was just reading “5 Reasons Why Mobile Browsing Isn’t That Important” by Hernán Gonzalez, and I was shocked at how backward thinking some of his theories are about mobile websites.

The quote that I find most bothersome:

“Research shows that users access the Web predominately via legacy browsers such as Internet Explorer on desktop or laptop computers. Numbers show that only about 1.47 percent of Web browsing is done through mobile devices, according to the well-renowned W3schools. That said, sacrificing the online experience to ensure that a website is mobile-platform-compatible can be very counterproductive in the long run.”

The operative word there is “in the long run.”  I think it is becoming fairly evident that in the long run more and more people will become mobile-only users.  Especially as the smart phone makes the web accessible to those who cannot afford a phone and home computer and home internet.  The smart phone alone will make the home computer a luxury rather than necessity.

Another problem with “in the long run” is this: most companies cannot afford to update their websites very often.  If you are in or approaching the design phase right now, you need a website that will be what users want both today and in five years.

If you have a website that is interacted with by consumers on a regular basis, your site had better be able to function well on an iPhone.

If you are IBM, a mobile-ready site is no big deal; you are interested in large-scale business deals.  But if you run a local sandwich shop, you’d better believe that a lot of your business is coming on mobile devices.

More misconceptions about mobile users

Gonzalez claims phone users have issues with usability, notingBrowsing the Internet on a mobile device is not easy for many users – it can be difficult and time consuming. Problems interacting with sites and completing tasks, such as filling out forms and clicking on buttons, are also not as simple on mobile devices. These types of issues have caused many users to avoid using the Internet on their mobile phones.”

Who are these “many users”?  Are they under age 60?  Are you designing for yesterday’s users or today’s and tomorrow’s?

In reality, we should be using the mobile site as the template for our larger site.  If the site is hard to navigate via mobile, it may be too complicated overall.  Good web design should start with the mobile site. That way you can get to the true essence of your site — the stuff that is really important — and strip all of that bullshit and clutter off of your homepage. Keep it simple, stupid!

He also notes, ” An overwhelming amount of users are unable to connect or receive a strong signal in many locations worldwide.”

Well, allow me to retort. As the mobile market proliferates, so will the access to Wi-Fi. Technology expands to meet consumer demand.  Again, this is Gonzalez looking to the past instead of the future.

I’ve seen the future, and it works

In summary, this article is all kinds of wrong.  Plan your site for the user of today and the users of five years from today.  Anticipate your customers’ needs so you are ahead of the game. And by all means, create a mobile version of your site!



4 comments on “Backward thinking on mobile sites

  1. To comment on the affordability (and timing ) part of your post. Designing sites for 5 years from now is damn near impossible unless you have a crystal ball.
    Instead you should be able to adapt and change rapidly depending on the feedback from your customers. If analytics tell you only 10% of your user base is accessing your site from mobile phones then you probably don’t need to spend development effort (ie money) to improve that aspect of your user experience. However, if you’re a site who’s users are mostly early adopters of technology then you need to see that trend and make your design decisions based, partly, on that.
    Both the ability to change your web presence quickly and make those design decisions with input from real users are aspects of a concept call Continuous Delivery (CD.)
    That’s not to say that all changes are reactionary. Customers don’t always know what they want and what works for them, but CD helps you throw out experiments in new user experiences. If it doesn’t stick to the wall, you can always roll it back, sometimes without any being any the wiser.

    • rsj8000 says:

      Chris: Thanks for the insight. You are correct in that designing for the future is impossible without clairvoyance. You have more articulately described what I was trying to convey, the possible need to “see that trend and make your design decisions based, partly, on that.”

      I think this is where Analytics and knowing your customer comes into play. As I noted, there will be many more mobile visitors to certain sites (like a news site) than there will to others (like a manufacturer of die-cut parts). I think the author of the article I cited would do better to offer such scenarios rather than blanket statements such as “many people don’t like using mobile devices.”

      Thanks again. Now I’m off to read about Continuous Delivery.

  2. The wikipedia post focuses more the tech side of CD, but here’s a link with a video that should be a more business-facing.

  3. And I guess I didn’t wrap up my original post. The concepts you and I describe above take the guess work out of changing your sites and therefore the wasted effort and money. So, while it might take some upfront costs to become nimble enough to change rapidly, once you get the wheels on the tracks frequent changes are cheap and easy.

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