The 'Misery' Of The Mobile Web
I would recommend mobilistias bypass the press release around the Nielsen Norman Group $198 report and go instead to Nielsen's own notes on his Alertbox site.
As Nielsen outlines, the company tested in a number of countries and across scores of sites and handsets. Most of those involved in direct usability testing were in the U.S. and they were tasked with following some common quests on mobile.
In his most striking finding (to me, anyway) Nielsen found that usability may actually have degraded since he tested in 2000. Finding the local weather on a phone in 2000 took 164 seconds; in 2009, it took 247 seconds. He explains that current mobile users tend to be very search-centric, so when asked to perform a task on a handset they are defaulting to the most circuitous route, the mobile version of their preferred search engine. This process entails error-prone typing, which Nielsen correctly fingers as a persistent culprit in mobile usability. It is worth noting that the study had one iPhone user who performed the weather task in record time, 18 seconds. "If any additional evidence were needed for mobile-dedicated design's benefits, this example should surely suffice," says Nielsen.
The metric from this report that got repeated yesterday throughout the mediasphere was 59%, the relatively low success rate of users pursuing tasks on their phones. The team equates those results with usability of the Web in 1994. "It was that bad," Nielsen says on his site.
But to be more complete and fair to the mobile Web and to handset evolution, that success metric improved dramatically in direct proportion to the phone's power. While feature phones suffered an abysmal 38% success rate, smartphones leapt to a 55% success rate and touch phones had a 75% rate, which is almost on par with the 80% rates of the Web when accessed on a PC.
To my mind the most useful point in this survey of our "miserable" mobile Web is Nielsen's argument that designing specifically for mobile is the smartest way to go. For all of the hype around full-Web browsing on mobile devices, the survey found that the success rate among mobile sites averaged 64%, overall while the rate for full Web sites on handsets dropped to 53%.
Standard Web sites simply are not designed for easy interaction even on the better handsets. The researchers also found that general satisfaction was higher for mobile-specific deigns than for full Web sites on mobile screens. "If mobile use is important to your Internet strategy, it's smart to build a dedicated mobile site," says Nielsen.
Thank you! Over the years, I have gotten harangued by too many proponents of a unified Web, a vision of desktop browsers and mobile handsets all accessing the same sites, the same features, and the same advertising. As efficient as that may sound for publishers, marketers, and ad technology companies, I just don't buy it. There's such a high percentage of users worldwide still on feature phones -- and even on my iPhone I much prefer mobile-specific designs.
I think focusing efforts on mobile design aids usability in a number of ways. First, as Nielsen points out, letting users fall back to a full Web site if they want it actually frees the mobile site to narrow its focus down to the essentials. If designers don't have to worry about fully mobilizing their Web presence in a mobile version, then the mobile version is likely to be much less cluttered.
Second, having a greater emphasis on mobile-specific designs might force the search ecosystem to focus on mobile results. Many friends in the industry argue with me over this, but I do not find the mobile search experience to be remotely satisfying, largely because its results push me to full Web sites rather than more targeted mobile landing pages.
There needs to be a greater seamlessness to the mobile search process so users start and end on pages that work best on their phones. The one metric that Nielsen and others can't provide is the number of people who just don't bother trying to find what they need on their mobile browser because a prior attempt was so frustrating.