The Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) did an extremely simple and effective piece of research into how useable the mobile Web is. It simply asked mobile phone owners to complete basic tasks using their own devices. And the results it has released point to one conclusion: using the mobile Web is slow, difficult and annoying.
The research was done in the US and UK, along with longer “diary” research done in six other countries. NNG reports that mobile Web use is so painful, it’s like trying to use the on-line web in 1994. The main body of the research was to simply ask mobile surfers to visit websites, check movie times or search for specific pieces of information. The study discovered that these tasks were only successful 59% of the time.
Nielsen specified four major problems with trying to browse on mobile:
Small screens: small screens means you can’t really open multiple windows, which makes comparisons very difficult.
Slow typing: even on QWERTY keyboards, typing is slow and awkward.
Slow connections: this is a complaint that has been popping up regularly the last few weeks. Even on 3G devices, download delays are both common and extremely annoying.
On-line site: websites that weren’t specifically designed to be viewed on mobile tend to look awful on the small screen
Smartphones are better:
Nielsen found that the success rate was much better on devices with large screens. It wasn’t as good as you’d imagine, though. The iPhone did the best, with a success rate of 75%. Smaller screen smartphones with keypads only got 55%, and feature phones got 38%.
From the report:
Jakob Nielsen, principal of Nielsen Norman Group: “The phrase ‘mobile usability’ is pretty much an oxymoron. Observing users suffer during our user sessions reminded us of the very first usability studies we did with traditional websites in 1994. It was that bad.”
What we think?
Man, mobile Web has been taking a battering in the last two weeks. There have been numerous reports about how crap connection speeds are in general (linked above). And now the entire mobile surfing experience is being done down. And for anyone who has tried using the mobile Web, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I have to admit, I keep on trying to access mobile Web info over my N73. And the majority of times I try to do something, I can’t.
I love the language that NNG used in this report. It was direct and no-nonsense. Words like “miserable” popped up. This is especially true of feature phones. The majority of phone users worldwide DON’T have a smartphone. So having a 38% success rate for mobile Web actions on feature phones is an utter failure. NNG had two pieces of advice for making the mobile Web a better place to browse. First, keep it simple. Complex sites on mobile just make it harder, and offer more opportunities for failure. Second, design it for mobile. The success rate is up to 20% better on mobile sites that are actually optimised for mobile browsing – although you should always offer a link to the “full” site as well.