So you’re on the road, and you have your phone with you for emergencies. You realize you didn’t pack enough beverages (if that doesn’t count, what does?). This is a website for a brewery, as seen on an iPhone:
This is a map of Hornby Island, showing an access road, showing where the road connects to a rocky beach:
What do they have in common?
They’re both being viewed on a mobile device, in context: on vacation, away from a desktop computer. What they don’t have in common is success: one utterly fails to work for the visitor, not offering even any contact information or alternative content in the event that Flash isn’t available1. The other offers precision to within twenty feet, which is very helpful at three in the morning (trust us on this one).
As more and more remote locations offer not just cell coverage but WiFi, web users are remaining connected, reading (and buying) ebooks, checking their Twitter stream, updating their Facebook status, uploading pictures, renting movies (be sure you only do this if you have WiFi) and generally doing pretty much what they do normally. The only difference is the devices they’re doing much of this activity on, and how they need it to work.
We’ve written a lot about this shift to mobile in the last few months, and it deserves the attention. Some designers and developers are considering upending conventional strategies, and designing for mobile first. There’s good evidence for this approach: Apple, for instance, is selling far more mobile devices (iPhones, iPads and iPods) than “traditional” computers (desktops and laptops):
(Even the smallest sibling in its mobile family, the iPod Touch, is selling more units than its entire computer business from just a few quarters ago.) The growth is enormous, and becoming normalized: the smartphone market is eroding the feature phone market in the western world. So if people have their phone with them, chances are they have their email, their maps, their social identity and your website. How many of your customers may be looking to your service temporarily, as tourists? How many may be looking to your service while on the road? What actions are they likely to take2?
Have you looked at your own website on a mobile device? Chances are, as long as it doesn’t use Flash, it looks okay: probably pretty similar to how it looks on the desktopaybe the visitor has to pinch to zoom in a bit, and scroll around, but mainly okay. We can do better than okay, though: there are a range of options for creating an optimal mobile experience for everyone on vacation who is using a phone or a tablet3, from a wholly separate site to a light reskinning. There’s no single best approach, as how your site relates to its visitors is a unique relationship that needs its own solution.
If you haven’t tried this, do it right now: take a vacation from your desktop, and live for a day just using your mobile phone. Use the web as you normally would (as long as you don’t start downloading movies, it won’t use too much bandwidth), and see things as a vacationer does. Use as many of the sites that you normally do, and see what the experience is like. Are you pinching and scrolling a lot? Is the site fast enough? Is the navigation clear on a palm-sized screen? Are you asked to do things you can’t do easily? Does your own site work for you? Is it going to work for the out of towners? Are you finding what you need in time to get to the beach?
You and your customers may go on vacation, but your online presence never does. It should be working for you all the time, all year.
- Sadly, the site itself is quite mobile friendly, there’s simply a splash screen that can’t be skipped without Flash; this is a two minute fix that is blocking thousands of potential customers. ↩
- iPhones and iPads convert phone numbers they see on web pages to links that connect directly to the phone, making calls that much easier. Assuming your phone number is visible on your site. It is, isn’t it?. ↩
- We can be honest, there isn’t as yet a tablet market: there’s an iPad market which may become a tablet market in the future. ↩