Mobile Usability

19 February 2009
Ben Logan

Author: Ben Logan

Passionate about improving services and experiences for the people that use them.

What are the key considerations for mobile and handheld usability? What should you be doing to improve the end user experience?

Mobile web users

Today’s mobile devices are multi-functional devices capable of hosting a broad range of applications for both business and consumer use.

People are rapidly changing the way they view and consume websites and the time spent on mobile and handheld devices has dramatically increased.

The challenge designers now face is that the mobile and handheld market is more varied than ever before.

  • There are about 2500 phone models
  • With around 500 different operators
  • More than 25 browsers
  • About 14 different screen sizes

Mobile designers will need to consider:

  • Different handset designs and vendors, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Apple, LG, HTC, Motorola etc
  • Different browsers e.g. Opera mini, Android, Blackberry, Safari, Openwave, Internet Explorer
  • Different operating systems e.g. Symbian, Windows Mobile, Palm, Mobile Linux etc
  • Different screensizes e.g. 128×128, 176×220, 128×160, 240×320 etc
  • Different markup languages e.g. WML (x)HTML
  • Different interaction techniques e.g. scroll wheel, joystick, stylus, soft keys, touch screen etc

Examples of web sites accessed on mobile

We have come up with a brief and very generalised list of sites that might be accessed by users on their mobile:

What are some of the characteristics of mobile web users?

Mobile web users are fairly tech savvy and will use their handset on a daily basis.

We have highlighted a few characteristics of the mobile web users:

  • Data snacking – Browsing time is a factor
  • Early failure in the site will result in a non-returning user
  • Prefer to scroll than to click

What are some of the issues mobile users face?

Mobile web users are at present in for a bit of a disappointment as a lot of sites are not engineered with mobile use in mind:

  • Lack of clarity in navigation
  • Link presentation can be confusing
  • Consistency in terminology
  • Consistency in visual design
  • Lack of white space and subtle spacing in interface
  • Poor colour contrast schemes
  • Loading time
  • Scrolling pages
  • Badly implemented code e.g. JavaScript
  • Text input fields can be painful to fill in
  • Lack of error messages and support
  • Limited display size

How can you improve the mobile experience?

When it comes to mobile experience there are a number of things you can do to improve this for the end user:

  • Design a separate site based around mobile use and high priority tasks on your current site
  • Consider using handset detection optimised for specific mobile phones
  • Consider typography across different hand sets and use a universal font e.g. arial
  • Test on as many handsets as you can and don’t rely on emulators
  • When testing try and capture body language as well as what’s on the mobile device
  • Make immediate visual changes whilst waiting for network or another action
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