Sep 16 2010
John Packes and John Lim Interview
It has been said that 2010 is the year for mobile. Do you have any stats to back that claim up?
John Lim: I think 2010 was the year for mobile awareness. Companies are starting to see trends and realize the power that mobile can bring to their brand and objectives. Dollars are rarely allocated on a whim; budgets have to be justified against ROI. With more favorable statistics pointing toward mobile becoming a very viable and profitable medium, I feel that companies are allocating budgets in 2010 for 2011, but we’ll start to see serious growth of mobile presence in the marketplace in 2011. I will say this, 2010 was the year that many companies did Mobile incorrectly.
What are the main differences between mobile users and laptop/desktop users when browsing the Web?
John Packes: The whole experience is different and in general the motives are different – hence the design and presentation have to be different. For web users you typically want an immersive and information rich experience for the end user – you generally don’t really know exactly what they’re there for, but you do have a lot of creative ability within the information and interface design. You want to provide a wow factor and all relevant content within a few clicks, and the large screen allows for that. You have drop down menus with sometimes two to three levels of navigation, all within a single click of your home page. As long as your website content is organized, then your users should be able to find what they’re looking for.
On mobile however, you have to first assume that the user is away from his or her computer, hence the hit from the mobile device. The user could simply be in another room watching TV and surfing the mobile web, or could be on a train trying to find a place to have lunch in a new city. Coming from the web, the mobile experience is generally frustrating as mobile interfaces in general are more limited, and the visible screen area is far smaller than web. As such, presenting key information is of paramount importance. What do users want when they’re away from their computer? Probably contact information first, including phone number, address, and a map or directions to the location. Maybe a store locator for larger companies with multiple locations. Maybe even some way to find a store based on the user’s current location, using GPS. It depends heavily on the brand and offering but the general rule is present relevant information in a clean and simple way.
John Lim: Mobile users are inherently more aggressive than laptop/desktop users. Since inception, mobile data has always been in bit sizes like text messaging with only 160 character capability. This coupled with the fact that the mobile users are on the go makes them more aggressive. Whereas, a laptop/desktop user is in a browsing state and is more likely to read a full article or participate in more page views.
Packes: For the most part we recreate the mobile site based on design and content from the web site. The mobile experience needs to be designed according to the anticipated needs of the user. Secondarily we can provide tons of additional content that is a click or two deeper.
Also in mobile users tend to think side to side instead of up and down AND side to side as they do in web. In mobile left is back, right is forward – that’s a function of current mobile design and information flow, and is a key interface concept when designing and doing IA for mobile. Too many folks are trying desperately to retrofit their website for mobile and failing miserably because they don’t understand the interface assumptions and mindset of a mobile user.
How do mobile designers take advantage of these user differences?
Packes: A good mobile designer will understand the inherent interface differences, and design the mobile website with that in mind. Also, a good mobile designer will understand the limitations of the mobile medium and embrace them. Minimalist designers tend to be best. That said, you don’t want a text-only cookie cutter looking mobile website. Your mobile website should reflect your brand, and a good mobile designer will know how to combine interface design with strong branding to create a great and useful mobile website.
On the technical side, how does one setup the site for “user agent detection”?
Packes: For us, we detect user agent two times. First when a mobile user hits a web site we use a series of techniques to detect whether it’s a mobile user or not. That includes detecting user agent, detecting screen resolution, and other hints that it could be a mobile device – if it is mobile, we redirect the user to the mobile website. There are plenty of scripts and open source libraries available for this step, very few if any being 100% reliable. After the initial detection, we also detect the exact device when it hits our mobile application server, and present the correct experience to the specific device. For example, our platform will serve up images at the correct dimensions based on device screen size, and adjust functional elements based on device capability. So, if the site has a map element, iPhones will get the full interactive draggable map, whereas something like a lower end LG or Samsung phone will get a static map image. Our goal is to create and deliver the mobile experience for 100% of mobile devices, not just the 10-15% of higher end devices.
John Packes is the Director of Product Development, John Lim is the CEO of Mobile Card Cast – a full-service mobile marketing and technology firm located in Tarrytown, NY, specializing in development and implementation of various Mobile delivery methods including Mobile Web, SMS, and QR codes. Mobile Card Cast operates internationally and has offices in New York, Las Vegas, and Poland.