Forget adapting for mobile phones

Website on two devicesThere has been much discussion of responsive and adaptive web content. Most of this concern is centered on access by mobile phone users. But I have found support for a theory that this worry is largely misplaced. The hype is most probably originating from software houses anxious to generate business from CMS software upgrades.



Let’s get specific, and consider specific information tasks. What device would you choose if:

  • you were on a train and wanted to check a shop’s opening time
  • you want to seriously consider the pros and cons of starting your own business
  • you want to immerse yourself in the concept of buying a top of the range sports car
  • you want to complete an online passport application
  • you want to compare insurance policies from several providers
  • you want to look at pictures of a holiday destination

Apart from the first one - your first choice would not be a mobile phone. But if you happened to be on a train, or have a few minutes waiting time out of the office you might just use your phone to see if your information you needed was available.

Google, in a presentation  entitled‘The New Multi-screen world’, has compiled a lot of interesting facts (well worth checking out as there is other interesting data in this!). They have found that 90% of people who access information on a mobile phone will continue their reading on another device: It’s especially high in categories like retail (67%), financial services (46%) and travel (43%).

From my own experience I know that there are things that I don’t want to do on a mobile phone:

  • have a serious lengthy read
  • carry out complex keyboard entry
  • do a lot of navigation linking
  • view side-by-side tabular information
  • look at detail on quality images
  • click on links placed very close together
  • click through nine pages to reach your information
  • be faced with lots of irrelevant graphics and icons
  • be hindered by loss of signal on a moving train
  • have to access a pdf for my information
  • wait ages for information to download (most abandon after 6-10secs)

Sales of tablets and phablets is on a steep rise. This being caused by people’s frustration of trying to read information on small screen mobile phones.

 In the ecommerce mobile survey (Monetate Q1 2013 Ecommerce Quarterly) we find that web access by tablet was 10.58% in the first quarter of this year (up from 5.95% in 2012) and smartphone 10.44% (up from 5.42%).

Most tablets present websites with little difficulty. So why reprogram your site for just mobile phones especially as more than half of those accessing will transfer their reading to a larger device? So you are investing in responsive technology for just 5% of the total audience - it just doesn’t make sense.

At the same time you will compromise the large screen version through use of non-optimised ‘on the fly’ design that responsive design delivers. You have no chance to preview and fine tune content - such as headlines that run to three lines, conflicting adjacent graphics, content that gets lost ‘below the fold’ etc.

phones only 33% as effective
The survey goes on to say that sales conversion rates on a smartphone are one third of those of traditional or tablet devices. So, by this measure, we need to positively discourage access by smartphone!

Should Rolls Royce, Ralph Lauren, Burberry or Chanel make their websites unreadable for mobile phone users, for example, as they would sell more product as a result? This is especially true at the quality, fashion end of the spectrum where pictures and lengthy copy are important to the persuasion process. Also for charities. Also for local government that needs to engage parents to consider child foster care, become school governors, etc, etc. The same applies on intranets when you are trying to engage and motivate staff.

There is a belief that some of these software developments are the next big technological step, and essential for a sound communications future. And this is how the expense is justified to management boards. Should you really introduce ‘visually-damaging’ technology to benefit 3% of your audience?

We should design for the reader of large screens and put consideration for the mobile phone user further down the priority list. A better investment in the time would probably be to improve the quality and readability of the web content itself. Why do it anyway if the main website works reasonably well on a mobile phone already?


  1. robotjane reblogged this from writingfortheweb and added:
    I completely disagree with every point of this article. Starting with the assumptions embodied in the stock photo of the...
  2. writingfortheweb posted this