Traditionally our experience with the mobile Web was pretty terrible, but the good news is that this is starting to change, at least according to Oliver Weidlich, usability specialist at Ideal Interfaces.

At the Web Directions South UX conference in Melbourne, Weidlich gave a presentation titled “The mobile Web user experience — we’re starting to get it right!”. Weidlich defined the mobile Web as “an internet site/stylesheet that is designed/optimised to be viewed on a mobile size screen and navigated using a mobile hardware UI (keypad, touchscreen, stylus) and caters for a mobile activity (location-based, faster access, shorter download times, mobile produced content)”.

Difficulties with the mobile phone

In the past slow speed, poor browsers and content, a small screen at low resolutions combined with bad interaction and interface design failed to deliver a good mobile experience.

There are still a number of issues present today: the cost of data plans is still too high, so users won’t want to use the Web on their phone for too long; there is a plethora of impracticable functionality where most users are not familiar with all the features on their phone because they don’t want or need them; small screens and buttons makes typing and viewing information difficult; linear navigational structure is time-consuming when there is too much navigating.

All these factors affect the user experience in a negative way. Weidlich says one in seven phones is destined to be returned. Out of the phones that are returned, 24 per cent are due to usability issues and 31 per cent because of configuration problems.

As far as the mobile browser goes, there are still a number of problems associated with it: slowness, data cost and security concerns. On the other hand, the user interface is looking better now and can support a range of transactions.

Similarly, mobile applications are still difficult to develop, remain complicated and expensive to download. However, they are getting richer and faster and we’re able to perform more advanced transactions.

Although the prices are dropping, browsing the Internet on your mobile phone is still expensive. As more data packs become available and we get unlimited download, the experience will improve further.

Additional improvements are necessary to enhance the browsing experience, for instance, implementing shortcuts and menu-based navigation.

Basic mobile interface design principles

Weidlich suggested some design principles we should apply when designing mobile interfaces:

|> Keep the vertical space occupied to a minimum
|> Develop interaction patterns and don’t divert from them
|> Design global navigation so that it’s obvious
|> Keep cross-browser compatibility in mind
|> Separate the content into sections by using headings and colour
|> Background colour should be used in moderation
|> Images or video used should be suitable for the mobile phone

Following the presentation we talked further with Oliver Weidlich about the mobile Web experience.

He says the range of different browsers, screen sizes and interactions pose a challenge to developers designing mobile applications.

Weidlich says the Bank of America is an example of a well-designed mobile interface, facilitating a good user experience. When asked what constitutes a good mobile user experience, he said “keeping everything on the mobile Web side of things rather than the application side of things. Where a customer can walk through quite a quick interaction. There might be a couple of steps to it, but it gives them the information they want very quickly and it has the opportunities to make use of other services on the mobile device, whether it’s a mapping application or … whatever else it might be”.

When it comes to designing the mobile experience, Weidlich says both handset designers and applications developers should play a role.

“It’s a combination to some degree, but it really should be up to the application designer to take advantage of the things the hardware manufacturers have provided and to leverage those things, but at the same time it gets more complicated if they are trying to leverage a specific technology, then how does that work on a different device. That’s why the iPhone has set the standard”.

Weidlich is confident we’ll have even better mobile experience in the future.

“I think in the future we’ll see a lot better mobile experience”, he said.

“Apple have led the way in owning the whole customer experience”. He says this might not necessarily be a good thing.

“Android will also be an interesting one to watch, because they have a more open approach to some degree and they are obviously going to have a lot of money behind it”.