Presented by Colt McAnlis, a developer advocate at Google, at from HTML5DevCon earlier this year. Colt says it all when he says this talk matters to people “if you work in an environment where the performance of your application matters to your companies bottom line.” Some great stats and great advice.
Whether you’re using a mobile site or a native app, if it doesn’t make sense to you, if it isn’t intuitive, if the flow just feels awkward and wrong, odds are you’ll abandon it and just find a new app. But what’s right or intuitive or “makes sense” can be so subjective how in the world do you go about testing it?
Well, since we do a fair bit of usability testing at uTest, we thought we’d put all the clever tips, tricks and insights we’ve learned into one convenient place. The Keys to Mobile Usability is a free eBook that covers:
- Common challenges for both native apps and mobile web
- A special look at hybrid apps
- The pros and cons of moderated versus unmoderated and survey versus recoded testing
- What the mobile usability matrix looks like
- How in-the-wild testing can help make sure your application is usable by your actual end users
But, if you don’t feel like reading, we also have a recorded webinar featuring UX Expert (with more than 10 years of experience) Inge De Bleecker and uTest Product Marketing Manager Stanton Champion giving a great run-down of mobile usability.
If you’re concerned your app is losing users check out the eBook or webinar, because it just might be that your application isn’t that usable. Remember, if your customers can’t use it, then it doesn’t work.
Last week over on webapptesting.com, Jamie Saine blogged about why the mobile web could conquer native apps. In her post, she cited predictions from noted mobile experts who believe that HTML 5 browsers will win out in the long run. This is not an uncommon view in the mobile world, but is it realistic?
As a brief rebuttal, I wanted to entertain the exact opposite: Could native apps actually conquer the mobile web? In many ways, they already have. Here’s why:
For one, the mobile web has already lost considerable ground on native apps, a trend that’s expected to continue - and possibly accelerate – over the next few years. As covered by Amy Gahran of CNN:
“A year and a half ago, mobile users tended to spend considerably more time — an average of 64 minutes per day — using the Web browser on their phone or tablet. By comparison, they spent only 43 minutes per day in apps. Now mobile users now spend an average of 94 minutes per day using apps, but just 72 minutes browsing the mobile Web…”
In fact, Joe Wilcox of Beta News had even higher statistics of mobile app usage:
“In March, the web browser accounted for just 18.5 percent of time spent online among US smart-phone users. Mobile apps accounted for the rest. Now we know why Safari for iOS capabilities advance so sparingly: Apple sees it as irrelevant. Stated differently: Safari is to mobile what Internet Explorer 6 was to the desktop 10 years ago. Apps matter more to both developers.”
Bottom line: We are spending more time with native apps. Why? Speed. Convenience. Reliability. Accuracy. Usability. These are things not currently associated with the mobile browser. As Jamie noted in her post:
Independent restaurants. And as it turns out, they’re not particularly good when it comes to the web either. Here’s the story via TechCrunch:
Restaurants just love to put Flash intros with auto-playing music and animations on their front pages. If you are trying to look at one of these sites on your mobile browser without Flash, chances are there is no way to bypass the animation and get to the information you want because the complete site was designed in Flash.
It’s not just these obnoxious animations that make accessing restaurant websites on the go a hassle, though. According to a new study by Restaurant Science, a restaurant industry information and analytics provider, only one out of eight full service restaurant chains and a depressing one out of twenty independent restaurants have a mobile website. What makes this even worse is that according to some reports, half of all visits to restaurant websites are from mobile devices.
Not having a mobile site may be forgivable for some small family businesses (though restaurant chains really should know better at this point), but the bad news doesn’t end there. More than half of the restaurants surveyed in this study didn’t even have a website to begin with (the researchers actually called all these restaurants to make sure they really weren’t online).
There have been solid arguments for both and even hybrid compromises (like native app icons that take you to a mobile site). But another melding of the two forms has just appeared in the form on CNET’s new mobile site.
In an article published yesterday CNET details how the design aesthetics of a native app influenced the redesign of their mobile site. The thought they put into their site is thorough and interesting and might just give mobile site designers a few ideas to think about and build on. Here’s what CNET did:
We know that there’s nothing as frustrating as a hard-to-navigate mobile Web site. There’s so little space on a phone screen that every pixel has to earn its keep. So when we redesigned our m.cnet.com site from the ground up, we took cues from something everyone knows and loves: mobile apps.
First, we simplified the layout of our mobile site and made its navigation familiar to anyone who uses Facebook, Path, or any other common mobile app. …
Just because m.cnet.com looks like an app doesn’t mean that is an app, though. Anytime you click a link that takes you to a CNET page on your phone’s browser, you’ll get this experience whether you’ve installed a CNET app or not. We’ve made our article pages clean and easy to read, with standard sharing navigation at the upper right.
Get more details at CNET >>>
Has anyone used the new CNET mobile site? What do you think of it? Is it intuitive and easy to navigate or did CNET miss their mark? Is the concept of “native app design for mobile web” something you think will or should catch on?
We’ve covered (at great length) the difference between native apps and the mobile web from a testing perspective, but never from an overall business perspective. For that, here’s a nice infographic from the zabisco.com blog:
You know what needs to be done. Yes, you’ve worked hard to develop, test and optimize your mobile site (or native app). But guess what? It’s time to blow it all up and start over. Sound unreasonable? Take a look at what Twitter recently did:
Twitter has redesigned its mobile website using HTML5,turning it into a Web app, which allows the social network’s mobile site to look and act more like the native Twitter apps available on smartphones.
Penner said in a blog post about the update that Twitter scrapped its old mobile site and built the new version ”from the ground up for smartphones and tablets, which have more advanced browsers that support the latest Web technologies, including HTML5.”
The same functions found in Twitter’s smartphone apps are there in the HTML5 mobile site, including the ability to quickly scroll through a user’s timeline, move between tabs to see @mentions and direct messages, search and view trending topics and lists, and of course, write Tweets, she said.
But the HTML5 verison of the mobile site can’t yet be viewed on every smartphone on the market, Penner said.
We’ve spent a great deal of time on this blog discussing the testing implications of native apps vs. the mobile web. While the mobile web has continually been written off as “dying” , “obsolete” and “inferior” by many of the experts, everyday mobile users tell a different story….
TechCrunch recently analyzed a report by mobile advertising firm Jumptap, which found that 58% of mobile users get their content via the mobile web and NOT from native apps. Here’s a few selected quotes from the article:
An explanation for the discrepancy was not given, but I suspect this has something to do with there simply existing more websites than there are apps, and that jumping from one app to the next to consume content isn’t as good a user experience as simply opening a new page or tab within your mobile browser of choice.
Additionally, a lot of major Internet services (Gmail, Bing, Google search etc.) tend to function as good or even better through the mobile browser than via native apps.
To put together the report, freshly funded Jumptap analyzed 10 billion ad requests on its mobile advertising network, made by 83 million unique users. The company not only looked at content consumption from mobile handsets, but also at how well users respond to mobile advertising, finding that ad engagement trends upwards with age and income.
With users still essentially split between native apps and the mobile web, testers will need to continue refining their skills in both areas until a clear winner emerges.
Your mobile testing objectives will depend heavily on the overall strategy you choose to employ. Here, the main choice is between developing a native app or a mobile website. Are you looking for one common platform with a consistent look and feel, or are you looking for lights out usability at the expense of expense or alienating entire device families? It’s not an easy choice and it is ultimately dependent on your business model.
That said, let’s take a look the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches:
- Single platform (the web)
- One app to build, launch and maintain
- All that’s needed for some companies
- Less controlled user experience
- Slower user experience
- No app store distribution
- Lack of standards across mobile browsers
- Rich media functionality
- Controlled user experience
- Faster experience for users
- App store distribution
- Must build, test and maintain multiple apps
- Not necessary for some companies
Here’s usability guru’s Jakob Nielsen’s take on the matter: