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Apps Beat Web Sites for Usability



In a world that's gone mobile, it might have once been cool simply to have a mobile website and app for your business. But that was last year. Now that app better be good as well, the experts say.

Declarations of the "year of mobile" are yesterday's news. Mobile computing has gone mainstream. If anything, said Jakob Nielsen, the guru of Web usability, last year was the year of mobile in terms of growth in both mobile usage and the availability of mobile sites and apps.

Now is the time for business owners to redesign their mobile sites and apps because their existing versions are probably far below customers' growing expectations for user experience quality. Fortunately, new research shows that mobile sites and apps have been improving their usability, even though it's still far below that of regular websites accessed from a desktop computer, Nielsen wrote in his most recent Alertbox newsletter.

Nielsen's organization, the Nielsen Norman Group, conducted six new rounds of usability testing on mobile websites and apps that measured the effectiveness of 105 users doing 390 different tasks that ranged from directed to exploratory.

The average success rate for users of mobile websites was 64 percent, a single-digit improvement over tests conducted by the organization two years ago. Although this improvement might seem disappointingly low, it's about the same pace recorded for desktop Web use over the last 12 years.

The current success rate for mobile Web use is about what the group had measured for desktop Web use in 1999. The current desktop success rate is 84 percent; unless mobile usability picks up the pace, mobile site success won't reach parity with the desktop until 2026.

While a mobile site is good, Nielsen said, a mobile app is even better. When people used mobile apps, the testers measured a success rate of 76 percent, handily topping the success rate with mobile websites.

Design and adhering to usability guidelines can make all the difference, Nielsen said. To have a successful site or app, you need to design for a small screen.

"Sadly, some don't, and we still see users struggle to hit tiny areas that are much smaller than their fingers," Nielsen wrote. "The fat-finger syndrome will be with us for years to come."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.



Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.