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Mobile whizzkids

01 Dec 2010

Mobile phone users will sacrifice some functionality and ease of navigation for the convenience of mobile access. Shoppers, for example, appreciate the convenience of browsing for a gift or checking out store specials while lining up at the bank or during ads on TV. But don’t keep users waiting.Mobile web performance that’s spotty or too slow will cost more than lost transactions. It can also damage your reputation. And, according to a consumer survey conducted on behalf of Compuware Gomez, most mobile users expect to be able to access websites from their mobile phones as fast as they do from computers.Even in the great consumer paradise of the United States, a review of mobile website performance shows that consumer expectations for a speedy mobile web are largely not being met. Two big-box retailers had home pages on the mobile web that took more than five seconds to download, and a specialty retailer required more than 5.5 seconds on average. Over the course of a single mobile shopping session, any latency adds up. Frequent delays will lead frustrated shoppers to move on.In spite of some ongoing challenges including device diversity, conflicting standards, limited management tools and a lack of established best practices, there are organisations delivering fast and successful mobile experiences. Going back to the US survey, two of the largest retailers – Amazon.com and Wal-Mart – had mobile home pages that downloaded in about two seconds.As mobile commerce grows, performance experts are focusing more on how to improve the mobile experience. Here are five tips:1. Direct mobile users to the right siteMany organisations have developed streamlined web experiences specific to mobiles, often presenting only the most popular or strategic features and functionality. They also make the most advantageous use of the limited screen size of the target mobile device. But that’s where the problem sets in. The number of mobile device types continues to expand each month.Many of tomorrow’s m-commerce site visitors will be using mobile devices currently unfamiliar to organisations. As a result, their servers may not recognise a mobile browser and direct it to the conventional e-commerce site, not the mobile site. Organisations must know what devices customers are using to connect to the internet in order to have a clear sense of which are the highest priorities.2. Slim downOptimising for the mobile web requires the same mindset that was common in the web’s early history. When consumers were still using slower dial-up modems, programmers and designers were mindful of bloated web pages. Graphics were simplified and unnecessary clutter was kept to a minimum. But this frugality diminished with the spread of broadband internet access. While a 100- kilobyte web page was rare 10 years ago, 500- kilobyte and even one-megabyte pages are commonplace today.The mobile web requires designers and programmers to tighten their belts once again. A traditional retail site, for example, may comprise nearly 100 objects. Some are large and important, such as the retailer’s logo, while others are design elements, such as rounded corners. On the mobile web, too many objects create too many headaches. Keep in mind that you can often realise dramatic gains in user experience by optimising the resolution of image files to reduce their overall size.3. Make fewer connectionsEvery connection between a mobile web browser and a web server adds latency to the data exchange and the resulting user experience. Add in connections to the mobile carrier and the problem becomes more apparent. Optimal sites make only as many mobile web connections as are needed.Fortunately, mobile developers can use various programming techniques to minimise the number of connections between a mobile web browser and the organisation’s web infrastructure. This can include combining adjacent images into single image files or consolidating JavaScript files. This will reduce the number of connections without increasing the size of the mobile page or application.4. Work with a specialistWhile some organisations deem mobile so strategic that they have invested in new staff, skills and infrastructure, others prefer to stick to what they’re good at, and to keep the current investment in line with the current opportunity.Companies that specialise in mobile sites and apps thus may be in a better position to optimise m-commerce experiences for many organisations. These providers generally live and breathe mobile technology, staying on top of fast-moving trends. Organisations unwilling to stomach the up-front investment in an in-house mobile initiative may find that working with a mobile specialist has advantages, and almost everyone can benefit from working with a content delivery network to speed up delivery to mobile devices.5. Trust but verifyWhile mobile specialists bring considerable expertise, there have been several examples where they didn’t deliver the performance consumers expect. Organisations working with outside firms should insist on service level agreements that focus on what matters most – the users’ experiences, and not just the provider’s infrastructure or code.You must also understand the performance of third-party partners and how it affects the user experience. Make sure that any service providers enlisted can deliver consistently high performance to your users, by insisting on the right service level agreements.Many service providers offer SLAs promising, for example, certain uptime guarantees, but the fact that a service provider’s servers are up and running does not say anything about network connectivity or APIs, which can have a huge performance impact on the end-user.  Adhering to these five principles should put you on the road to delivering the kind of mobile experience that will keep users coming back, time and again, via their phones. 

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