Expert advice: Cracking the mobile web

Take a tree. It provides shade. It let’s you string up a hammock and allows you to build a tree house. Now take a tiny little tree – a bonsai. Small. Cute. Portable. Convenient. Fits in your pocket. It may look exactly like a full-size tree, but it isn’t.

This single, critical truth is the first thing that needs to be accepted by those wanting to explore the mobile web or provide a service for it. The mobile web simply isn’t the world wide web you access on your computer. It can’t be. It will never be.

The mobile phone in Africa, which has less than 1% smartphone penetration, is small, low-powered, and very constrained ergonomically.

If you’re designing a site for the mobile web, you need to change your mental picture of the user.
Mobile users are hunters, not browsers. They’re focussed, opportunity-driven, and tire easily. Keyboards are cramped, screens are small. The average mobile user wants to get what they are looking for within three clicks, and the clicks must be obvious. No scratching around in site maps or search boxes.

The differences are sometimes subtle, but they are all-important. Successful web strategies honed over a decade don’t necessarily translate into successful mobile web solutions.

There are well over 6,000 different makes and models of web-enabled mobile handsets that you need to cater for. This means that a quick XHTML translation for three different screen sizes just won’t do. It’s not the technical changes when moving to the mobile platform that need the big shift in perspective – it’s the interface philosophy.

The mobile Web is about snacking. It’s not the big fat web we’re all used to, with users taking their time picking through the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The people doing the snacking are also not all created equal. Marketing decisions are often made around a teak boardroom table in a room filled with people brandishing iPhones, Androids or other smartphones. But what they so easily overlook is the fact that one of the most popular handsets accessing the mobile web in SA is the little Samsung E250.

Mobile strategies in SA and Africa need to take into consideration the typical limited screen size, limited user attention span, and often limited prepaid budget of consumers.

It’s easy to impress a boardroom of smartphones with a flash-friendly mobi site. But does the brand still look impressive – or even accessible – across the other 5,999 different handset types?

A good mobile strategy is complicated in the planning, simple in the execution. Think carefully about what you want to do, what you hope users will do, how they’ll do it – then make it as simple and as fast as possible for them.

If you get that right, you’ll succeed on the mobile web.



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