Mobile is just the beginning

More please…

I feel today that I must tip my hat to a few organizations (and encourage others to consider following their lead).

Yesterday, the BBC launched a responsive (mobile-only) news site (in Beta for now) and followed up today with an awesome post explaining where and how it was tested. Earlier, on their responsive blog they had posted a short list of common devices accessing the BBC web site and gone into details about their strategy and development approach.

A few weeks ago I also discussed a recent Netflix article explaining which devices they support and how they go about managing diversity (while keeping their development process sane).

I also had a lovely comment on my blog a few days ago from Craig Sullivan at who explained in fair detail (given it was a simple comment on a blog) the decisions they made around device support, and the ROI they had seen when supporting older BlackBerry devices.

More please!

These are the types of conversations we need WAY more of.

I’ve been frustrated for some time that most practical conversations about ‘mobile web’ are dominated by smaller agencies and freelancers who are (mostly) unable to disclose the details of client projects.

Sharing code is easy (and effective) but often handicapped by the fact that strategic discussions contain part urban legend, part chicken bones and tea leaves, and are therefore easy to dismiss with “…oh but that’s not my market” or “…that’s not what i’m seeing in my analytics”.

These are all valid objections, but may still be immaterial when there is no broader industry perpective to weight them against.

Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, Twitter, myriads of fortune 500 companies, major FMCG brands and others are stampeding into mobile, yet keeping quiet about their device traffic, implementation and overall strategy.

While I kinda get this from a business perspective, some of these details are hardly worth keeping secret and some of this ‘strategy’ is simply good common sense. It wouldn’t hurt them to make some of it public, and would go a long way in helping our industry move forward.

What would help

Here’s what I would love to see more of from companies large and small—and ideally in all industry sectors (not just tech…how about travel, automotive, the cultural sectors?).

  • Lists of common devices accessing well known sites. We all know iPhone users surf more than others. Let’s get over it and start discussing the long-tail of Android devices (and the dirty secret that each month these inch up further and will soon match iOS traffic…if they don’t already).
  • Case studies of ROI when supporting many browsers/platforms. Facebook seems to be spending lots of time with WURFL lately. That can’t be because all the traffic is coming from iOS. Who else is going out of their way to support lots of platforms…and how’s it working out for them?
  • Case studies comparing ROI for a responsive site vs. a standalone mobile site (which of course can also be responsive). And while we’re at it, would anyone (who has used one…rather than sells one) care to discuss the ROI of using a ‘proxy’ service? These are complex topics that are heavily linked to a site’s size, content, CMS/API and a host of other factors…but that’s what makes these conversations so valuable.
  • Case studies about server-side detection and adaptation. The big guys are doing it…so why is that? Are they all just wasting their time?
  • Strategies to combat the ‘ugly truths’ of fragmentation (new favourite term courtesy of these fine folks). Detecting a device, or browser feature can be tricky, but it’s often far easier than what comes next. I would love to see more discussion around what to do when detection doesn’t work as planned (…I don’t know about you but false positives and account for the majority of the bugs we currently face, and while these specific bugs will i’m sure go away, i’d be astounded if new ones didn’t take their place).

Anyone care to add more to this list (or suggest case studies I haven’t yet run into)?

And a final hat tip to R/GA who fairly regularly releases this kind of info via Brad Frost (…despite i’m sure the odd squeamishness for clients.)

More please…

4 Responses to “More please…”

  1. Henny Swan

    +1 to everything you’ve listed here Stephanie, an excellent post. More openness and sharing of data is exactly what we need in order to stop reinventing the wheel and free up time to innovate and get things right.

    An area of mobile web design that is woefully underrepresented both in terms of real world examples and information is accessibility – making sites usable for people with disabilities. Added to your list I’d love to see:

    - Case studies on accessible mobile web design and how it improves overall usability without negatively impacting or altering the intended design
    - Case studies on ROI on supporting disabled users on mobile
    - Case studies around responsive design and accessibility (I’m hoping I will be able to share something in the future)
    - What devices to test accessible mobile sites on (I have some information on my blog but this could be improved)
    - Disabled user testing findings

    There is a degree of information out there on how to make mobile websites technically accessible (i.e. readable by voice output such as Voiceover on iOS, Talkback on Android, Talks on Nokia etc) but not enough about the process, benefits and how disabled users browse the mobile web.

    It would be great if we could make accessibility part of ‘definition of done’ when building sites rather than an occasional add on.

  2. Craig Sullivan

    Hi Stephanie – and thanks for mentioning the comment!

    The one thing I forgot to mention is that the Blackberries get much higher conversion mainly due to the dropout rate for onscreen keyboards.

    I looked closely, for example, at the conversion rate of Android devices. One thing I noticed was that the OS version was driving some diffierences between 1..5-> and up. What we saw was that this was driven by the different implementations of the Onscreen Keyboard. We checked into this and clearly for forms, there is a correlation between drop rate and the presence of a keyboard (or good onscreen version).

    The older androids (and fragmentation remains a problem in some markets due to over the air upgrade problems) simply have a nastier keyboard so people struggle more. Conversely, with blackberries, data entry (especially for non lookahead or complex data) has much less friction.

    Screen sizes also make differences to our conversion rates, as well as even simple things like the text layout, decoration, simplicity and clarity. We must have gone through 40 iterations of crushing the copy down again and again to the raw minimum to support the customer. There was no BS or corporate guff left – just the raw utility and emotion. Copy makes a huge difference on small viewports.

    Hope that adds another bit of info – I love reaching maximum device audiences because its good for business but ends something I think of as basic discrimination. I speak about our mobile work a bit and always say – Would a retail store put a bouncer on the front door and randomly punch you, just because you had a Samsung in your hand? No. Start testing what thy user holds.

  3. Craig Sullivan

    As for stats on Android – see below. I look after data from 35 countries, listing every model, make, OS version and other useful raw data going back over two years now. Very handy.

    You can see some of it here on these pics.

    Growth to Nov 2011 (It has now gone over 20% worldwide so this graph is out of date):

    This shows how our growth reaches over 25-30% of all unique visitors:

    And this shows World OS share, showing inroads of Android:

    Feel free to ask me to mine for anything interesting you fancy Stephanie.


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