Mobile; not stupid simple

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I keep hearing people that say mobile (web/app) needs to be “stupid simple” for people to use and although I do believe that usability is important, mobile does not need to be stupid simple. It needs to be smart. Smart like a Swiss army knife. For mobile, smart is:

  • Easy to use interface – Usability is the number one reason why Apple’s smartphone has taken the smartphone market to where it is today. Yes. It’s cool to but how cool would it be, if you couldn’t use it. According to Jack Hyman, you have 17 seconds before a user will go elsewhere to find what they’re looking for. (This sounds long to me and we always believed we had about 10 seconds to get peoples attention on the terrestrial web.)
  • Location awareness – No matter what business you’re in, you should be asking permission to know of your customers location. Awareness of your customers foot traffic will help you fulfill their needs. You are your foot traffic as much as you are your network.  Android, Safari and “the iPhone” have location built in. (The user should be able to easily turn this off whenever they want.) Imagine that you’ve recently searched for a home on Zillow and set up a location based alert so that when you’re physically close to a home that meets your criteria having an alert sent directly to you. This type of functionality is relatively new. I would recommend a demo to outline the benefit for the user.
  • Background the app – Your app should be running in the background to track when/where your users go. This allows for location based services/reminders. This allows you to take care of their needs even when they aren’t thinking of using you. (Again, the user should be able to easily turn this off whenever they want.) This type of functionality is also new and I’d recommend a product demo to outline the benefit for the user.
  • Push notifications – Your user wants information from you and if they have to go look for it; you’ve failed. If it’s an app, it should be push notifications. If it’s a mobile site, it should be SMS/MMS.
  • SMS/MMS as the communication method – Sending email updates are okay for the terrestrial web but for mobile, SMS and MMS are the preferred method for mobile users. I don’t have exact numbers but SMS is the primary text based method of communication and because of unlimited plans, MMS will become more prevalent.
  • “Call Us” – Many mobile site/application creators have figured out that the mobile phones also make calls! In their apps or mobile sites they have big Call Us buttons that when pressed initiate the call from the mobile device. This is yet an0ther function that doesn’t work on the standard web but is second nature for mobile.
  • Audio – Building on the call us functionality; are you encouraging your users to use functionality native to the device? Can your users attach audio notes to something you’re selling, like the home they’re shopping for? Do you have voice-to-text functionality included in your site/app? Always keep in mind that typing on any mobile device is not fun and every time you make your users do it, you lessen your brand experience.
  • Allow for transactions – The myth that people don’t  by things via their mobile device is not true. In-app transactions continue to grow and are dependent on the product. There are companies that sell ‘parts” for their main product and in many situations those parts have little difference other than size and color, like ear buds for headphones. This is a perfect product to have optimized on the mobile site or feature in-app. One of the reasons people don’t purchase products via a mobile device is a lack of usability. Transactions should be stupid simple. I tried to buy barcodes for Stickybits from Amazon and I got stuck in a loop that I couldn’t get out of. If usability is essential for websites it is life-threatening on mobile sites/apps.

This list covers apps and mobile sites and not all functionality is available on both. If you make you’re site/app stupid simple you’re missing out an many opportunities. Mobile is much more of an interaction between customer and businesses that touch everything from the interface, the location of the device to the many interfaces of the devices.

1 comment

  • Michael,

    Just to clarify why the period of time is 17 seconds. The study that this was derived on was an average of smartphone and feature phone. Regardless of mobile device, the network speed and connectivity dictates the load. For example, an iPhone will have substantively different load time than a Symbian based device because of caching and protocol as well as the overall browser. Rendering a page varies considerably also based on controls activated.

    In the traditional Web experience, people do not wait for the page to load and scroll. A few studies by usability experts such Nielsen et al state the average wait is around 34 seconds or about 2.9 fixations per scroll. Because the mobile browser is compact and people (for the most part) recognize that network connectivity is far slower on a mobile device than an internet connection, they are willing to wait a longer period of time for a page to load. They also do not get ample information often on the introduction screen. It takes 3-4 scrolls on a device to fully measure end user satisfaction. The size of the interface window and the amount of content be it text or graphical also determines user willingness.

    Hands down, text outweighs graphics in a mobile web experience because of quicker load and value is more measureable.

    Let’s take an example http://www.datingsource.mobi. This is a mobile dating directory. The site has a single graphic. Load time is about 3.4 seconds. It contains information chunks that heavily emphasizes SEO top words based on Google’s Adwords Keyword Directory. People are introduce to enough to generate buzz. Upon clicking each link, the user is introduced to the real purpose of the Website – the directory content. If the user finds one of the links interesting, they will click on it. In the case of a directory play, the bounce rate is not the moving from one page to another – but when the user successfully goes to the second page of the external site because a transaction is committed on the second page of each link-based page. Case and point, if the user continues to consume information even if they are on a secondary site based on the original link, most usability experts will claim victory because the user has consumed information and paged through the site from Point A to Point B. If; however, the user abandon the site after the landing page, usability measures must be refined. Often the focus is not on navigability and appearance which for mobile are the key points to getting a user to stay. Other usability dimensions as outlined by Hyman’s Mobile Commerce Usability Satisfaction Model (in progress) include ease of use, flexibility, learnability, efficiency, and error handling. That along with informationc chunking will facility strong conversion rates.

    Check out http://www.datingsource.mobi to see the theory in action.

I'm an Associate Teaching Professor of Digital Marketing at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. I also consult with startups and established brands. I'm currently focused on artificial intelligence, cognitive neuroscience and culture. I am married to an amazing woman and have two incredible children. I was raised in Colorado and spend my free time with family, biking, snowboarding and going to the Pacific Ocean to SCUBA dive and/or surf. I'm passionate about architecture, design, street art, photography and the art that tattooing has evolved into.

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