Mobile use is on the rising. In the United States, people spend an average of 151 minutes on a smartphone and 43 minutes on a tablet. The average British person spends 111 minutes on a smartphone and 55 minutes on a tablet, of which 2.5 hours every week are spend “online while on the move” – away from their home, work or place of study.
Here is a chart showing the average amount of minutes spend in front of a screen (including TV, desktop, smartphone and tablet):
This is nothing new. The numbers will rise further and people will spend an increasing amount of time using their smartphone. Everybody in the industry knows that and can envision the potential. However, it is only in the last years that we are designing for mobile and there are still many hurdles to overcome (think user experience on mobile). Let’s start with the most obvious differences between smartphone and desktop:
Small screens – Big screens
Screens are smaller on phones. That means there is a lot less space and therefore a lot less content visible. One mistake we often make is trying to squeeze the amount of information and functionality of a desktop site into a small screen. Most of the time that doesn’t end well.
Single window visible
At the moment I have around 30 browser windows open on my desktop. In that way I have a lot of information at hand and I’m continuously switching between them, which is easy and very convenient. On mobile I can open several windows but the time and effort to access the them is much greater. I have less overview of what is open and where to find it. So we can say that on mobile we only have a single window visible.
Attention is fragmented
This is also nothing new. We use mobile in the most varying situations and many times our attention is fragmented. We check our phone while waiting for the bus, stop using it when the bus arrives, use it again when we are on the bus, stop using it when we get off and so on. There are plenty of situations you can think of. The average mobile session last only 72 seconds (N&N Group).
Touch screens are ingenious. They are easier to use than a mouse (not so much hand-eye coordination required for touch because the interaction is done with your finger) and more intuitive. However, when it comes to text input they are a nightmare. It is tedious, awkward and we usually make a lot of mistakes. A problem we don’t face on desktop. The keyboard allows us to quickly type an entire page or fill in a form.
We use our fingers to interact with a touch screen. An MIT Touch Lab study of Human Fingertips to investigate the Mechanics of Tactile Sense found that the average width of the index finger is 1.6 to 2 cm (16 – 20 mm) for most adults. This converts to 45 – 57 pixels, which is wider than what most mobile guidelines suggest.
In fact, different companies suggest different touch target sizes, everything from 28 px to 44 px, which compared to our index finger seems relatively small. As a consequence, accidental touches or difficulties in hitting the target area are quite common (and frustrating). This is a unique problem with touch devices. Although a mouse requires more hand-eye coordination, it is still far more precise than our finger.
Considering these limitations we have to ask if it is wise to duplicate on mobile what we have on desktop. I say no. A mobile phone is a very specific device and very different from a pc. To understand the potential of mobile we have to look at what smartphones and consequently small screens are good for and at what people do on their phones.