We live in a world that is increasingly obsessed with touch devices ranging from smartphones and tablets to smart refrigerators. As I write this blog Apple’s Tim Cook is showing off their latest and greatest devices and iteration of iOS at their developer’s conference. It is pretty safe to say that touch devices are not only here to stay, but also account for a sizable chunk of the devices being used to browse the web. But what does this mean for user experience on the web?
Ever since we noticed the first increase in mobile traffic, the analytics industry has had the mobile web experience under a microscope.
The share of sessions on mobile and tablet devices continues to increase month over month.
Insights into mobile usage drove (and continue to drive) organizations to experiment with different strategies, ranging from mobile variations of their sites to full-blown mobile applications. These tactics all led to better user experiences on these smaller devices, with quicker load times, easier navigation, and increased levels of overall convenience.
Even with the increase in visitor share that mobile and tablet devices are demonstrating, it is important to ensure that the user experience for traditional browsing devices (desktops and laptops) is not sacrificed or fall to the wayside. Here’s 3 things to consider when weighing investments for mobile and desktop-friendly web designs:
Contrary to what Microsoft and Apple are saying, the desktop environment is not dying and will never die off completely. They claim that the sales of tablets are outnumbering those of traditional laptops and desktops. It needs to be understood, however, that these numbers are not apples-to-apples (no pun intended). Touch-based devices have a much shorter useful lifespan before their hardware or software is no longer sufficient. Consumers can’t upgrade them to the level that they did desktops and laptops. A quick $30 investment in RAM for a desktop can increase its useful lifetime by over a year. With tablets, however, manufacturers found a way to eliminate the consumer’s ability to stretch the time between purchases even longer. Now consumers are purchasing new devices sooner.
I own several touch devices, including a tablet. It’s a fantastic device for checking email, basic browsing, and recreational activities. It is not as great for productivity, however. Though it is definitely better than working from a smartphone, the level of productivity from a tablet cannot match that of a desktop environment. That is why most offices and computer labs at universities will not shift most of their technology over to touch. That is also why the desktop user experience should not be ignored when it comes to web design.
The ratio of mobile vs. non-mobile devices used to interact with a website may differ between target audiences and even different segments within each audience. There is an obvious need for mobile solutions for financial service institutions that offer conveniences like mobile banking. But this need might not justify the cost for other industries.
This is single-handedly one of the most important questions to ask when determining how to approach the mobile experience. All too often we see organizations that invest so much in a mobile application or website and come to find that they do not actually serve to drive business in any significant way. Just like any other business investment, it is important to weigh it against what the organization is trying to accomplish and see how much it helps to get it there.
Before I wrap this up, I want to provide some clarification: Touch-based devices are here to stay and their usage is increasing with each month that goes by. I am not advocating that mobile should be overlooked anymore than the desktop user experience should. Both are extremely important for the long-term. Responsive web design has also helped to solve the gap that exists between the mobile and desktop experience. It is just a matter of the level of importance depending upon your organization, audience, and business goals. I’m a huge advocate of doing research and assessing situations before jumping into them.