Last week, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 conference. I read a recap of the speech on Adweek, according to which Zuckerberg made one thing especially clear: Facebook is committed to mobile. He stated that users spend more time on Facebook through mobile than desktop, and more users visit Facebook’s mobile site per day than its iOS or Android apps combined. And apparently, in an effort to accentuate Facebook’s prioritization of mobile, Zuckerberg said that he wrote his 2,173-word letter to investors exclusively on his phone. (Really?)
Zuckerberg’s talk (coupled with the recent unveiling of the iPhone 5) prompted me to start mulling over mobile. Obviously, a site with a user base as large as Facebook’s needs to have a solid mobile strategy, but what about other sites? Is not having a mobile site detrimental?
I’m torn when it comes to this question: the incessant pinching and scrolling that are required when a site doesn’t render well on my iPhone is frustrating at best, but sometimes when a website does have a separate mobile site, this mobile site appears watered down, almost like an attenuated version of the original site.
In order to get the full picture, I decided to dive into the research on people’s smartphone habits and conduct a reconnaissance of sorts on our smartphone-savvy society. I also wanted to find out who’s doing it right in mobile: the mobile sites and apps that truly stand out.
Let the searching, scouting, and scrutinizing of smartphone practices and websites commence.
Data and the Deal with Mobile
The Mongoose Metrics Data Series recently examined one million different websites and found that only 9% were deemed mobile ready.
Pew Research analyzed smartphone habits of U.S. adults and found that:
- 88% of people own a cell phone of some kind as of April 2012, and more than half of these cell owners (55%) use their phone to go online.
- 31% of these current users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone, rather using other devices such as a desktops or laptops.
An April 2012 report from Nielsen looked at percentage of mobile phone time:
- 55.8% is spent on apps
- 13.4% is spent on text messaging
- 11.1% is spent on browsers
I think there’s a slight disconnect evident here: over half of cell-phone owners browse websites on their phone, but only a very small percentage of sites are mobile ready. Now, when I began writing this blog post, I thought mainly of mobile sites rather than apps; however, it’s clear that the majority of mobile phone time is spent on apps as opposed to browsers. I began to wonder if it’s better for businesses and websites to have an app rather than a mobile site. I have The Huffington Post app on my iPhone, and Huff Po also has a mobile site. However, immediately after I downloaded the app, I realized that it was superfluous, because the site and app are extremely similar: both make it incredibly easy to email, tweet, and post articles; view comments; and add comments.
The app makes it slightly easier to peruse the different sections of The Huffington Post, but ads are more obtrusive on the app than on the mobile site.
(As far as those melodramatic titles, sensationalism much, Huff Po?)
However, for some news sites like The Washington Post, apps are much more user-friendly and much easier to navigate than the mobile site.
For me, when it comes to apps and sites, it’s a toss-up. What do other people prefer?
The Faceoff: Sites vs. Apps
81% of users prefer mobile sites to apps for researching prices.
79% prefer mobile sites for products reviews.
63% prefer mobile sites for purchasing. (Source)
People prefer apps for managing, informing, navigating, and connecting.
App users are generally more engaged. They consume 2.4 times more impressions on average. (Source)
As far as which is superior, it all depends on the content of a website and said site’s target audience. I discovered a wide variety of sites that have crafted an expert mobile strategy that suits both their content and users extremely well.
Calling Attention to Amazing Apps
Seamless is a website that allows you to order food delivery and pickup from an array of restaurants in various major cities. The app is very basic, but it functions, well, quite seamlessly: it’s easy to browse restaurants, and it saves your favorite orders.
Rue La La
I’ve professed my love for this flash sales site before, and I use this app on a daily basis. Named the Best Shopping App of 2011, it showcases the merchandise that’s currently popular among the site’s members, allows users to preview sales, and makes purchasing incredibly easy.
The Washington Post
The Washington Post app allows users to create a customized experience: they can select their favorite sections of the paper and have these display when they select the “More” option.
Shining the Light on Superior Mobile Sites
YouTube’s site makes it incredibly easy to search, view, and organize videos, and I actually prefer the mobile site to the app.
Google is practically a give in, but I have to give credit where credit is due: to a search engine that balances simple design with multi-faceted functionality.
Wikipedia manages to feature a search option, a featured article, and recent news on the home page of its mobile site all while avoiding a cluttered feel.
The GoMo Deal Breaker
After immersing myself in statistics, websites, and apps, one question still weighed on my mind: if a company doesn’t go mobile (an action some people endearingly refer to as “go mo”), is it a deal breaker? If I spend more time pinching, zooming, and scrolling than I do reading content, then I will abandon a site. The same thing holds if the loading time is frustratingly long, and it looks like I’m not alone on that: according to KISSmetrics, most mobile web users will wait six to ten seconds before they abandon a page.
I just checked the load time of my Facebook iPhone app. It took six seconds to load the most recent news feed stories. That’s cutting it pretty close.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go watch a video on YouTube, read a Washington Post article, order from Rue La La, and compose a 3254-word email to my coworker—all via iPhone.