Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The mobile web is finally getting started

Mobile interface design catching-up ...

"It is interesting why so few of us use one of the breakthroughs of recent years: the ability to search the web from wherever we are with a mobile phone. This ought to be hugely empowering, enabling us to answer any question from wherever we happen to be instead of having to wait until we are within reach of a computer. If mobiles provided a good web experience, we would probably use them at home as well since the phone would already be close to our hands and the computer may need to be activated in another room.

There are a number of reasons why this hasn't happened and why it may be about to change. It is partly because the operators have been shamefully greedy in trying to raid our pockets by charging for all the data we download even though we may never have wanted it in the first place. That is now changing as operators belatedly offer "all you can eat" tariffs - but it still won't be enough to ignite the mobile web.

Why? Because the user experience is still not good enough. Mobiles were designed to make telephone calls. No one had any idea at the beginning that they would be as popular as they now are, let alone that they would house around 60 different functions, of which browsing the web is merely one. As screens got bigger to make words, photos and videos easier to view, keyboards shrank, making it more difficult to key in the words you need for a search. On some phones you still have to make several thumb movements to get the cursor into the search box. Crazy. Small wonder mobile browsing is a minority sport, way behind texting, phone conversations and alarm calls in our priorities.

Now things are changing. Mobile phones are about to experience a rerun of the web wars of a few years ago which ended with Microsoft winning the browser battle (with Internet Explorer snuffing out Netscape) and Google triumphing in search. Hopefully, the best user experience will win (but don't bet too much on it). Everything is up for grabs in the smartphone market where London-based Symbian is the dominant supplier of operating systems (with 70% of the market), pursued by Microsoft, Apple, Linux and others. Opera from Norway is market leader in browsers but facing fresh competition from Apple's Safari on the iPhone, Nokia's own open-source offering and, soon, Google as well. Yahoo! has greatly improved its search experience. It needed to as Google will soon launch its improved mobile search software to lay claim to the goldmine of advertising-backed search."    (Continued via The Guardian)    [Usability Resources]

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