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Smart Phones are not Desktop Computers

As the mobile revolution continues I have found more and more developers equating smart phones and mobile devices with desktop computers and laptops. Since the sprout of smart phones and tablets personal computer usage has declined significantly, with users relying more and more on their mobile device. Because of this there is a tremendous overlap between the functions a person performs on their mobile device, and those on their computer. But this overlap cannot be allowed to create confusion, as while many tasks can be performed on both, they each have distinct usages.

First off, mobile devices are intended to be “mobile.” Devices that are portable, and on the move constantly. Unlike a laptop which may move from room to room, a smart phone goes in the car, the grocery store, the auto shop, even the county fair. People are pulling out their mobile devices to research information in the middle of conversations, or when trying to price check an item at their local store.

While these same functions can be performed on a desktop or laptop at home, the user is trying to access the information now, and they want it just as quickly. As such, trying to apply the same rules in the desktop world to the mobile world only creates problems. Imagine trying to get the latest news from CNN and having over 100 articles show up at the same time. Or trying to find your local weather and having a video of Storm Chasers pop-up. Sure, these are things you may want to do on your mobile device, but the majority of users want the news most relevant to them, and they just want their local (or another locations) weather. More importantly, they want the information quickly, on the go, without having to do anything special.

Perhaps more important than this, however, is remembering how little control the average mobile user has over their device. Recently I was in a meeting where it was discussed whether or not mobile users should be told to use a specific browser. This of course comes from the dark ages of the internet, where you had to choose between Netscape and IE 5, which rendered pages differently. But in today’s world, it has become a standard to support all MAJOR browsers, with some companies going as far back as IE 6. Imagine using Google Chrome and being told you can’t access a site with that browser! Or using Firefox and being stone-walled. Yet, this is exactly what was being proposed for mobile devices!!!

And unlike desktop computers or laptops, the user doesn’t have the freedom to go to microsoft.com and download the latest version. iPhone users for example are restricted to what is in the Apple App Store, limiting them to alternatives such as Opera Mini (a watered down browser that doesn’t support a lot of features) as alternatives. Not only is there a good chance that a mobile user will not be able to download the “proper browser,” but now you are asking them to take time out of their grocery shopping to download a completely separate application– just to use your site.

With this concept, you might as well tell a WAP phone user to support JavaScript, or tell a Windows Phone 7/ iOS user that they need to download “flash.” You’re not telling the user what they can do to improve their device or even their experience, at this point your telling them you don’t care about them. You’re telling them they have to buy a special device just to access your “mobile” on-the-go content.

Sure, you can’t support every mobile device out there, but you can make your website friendly to those that you do support. Desktop websites are steadily evolving and moving forward from their dark pasts, but old habits die hard. Let’s not take a step back in the mobile realm by trying to equate the mobile experience to the desktop experience of 1995. Mobile websites should support a wide-variety of platforms, and be quickly accessible and usable, regardless of what browser or device you are using. They should give the user the information they want, when they want it.

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