Mobile Usability Overview

It’s quite refreshing to see that internet trends are starting to move back to topics that are actually useful to discuss beyond just a few paragraphs, and we’ll start with mobile usability, which I’ve carried a chip on my shoulder about for some time. There are a lot of problems with the mobile practices used at large, from three different directions. And oh man, have I been waiting for this to be topical enough for me to go on a tirade about it.

The Three Stooges:

Three different participant groups are utterly getting this wrong in a lot of ways. The OS designers, the device engineers and the software developers are all dropping the ball in many ways.

While I’d like nothing more than spend this entire article actually picking them apart directly, that’d be a little too negative and we’d walk away just pissed off. Well, that can be useful, but let’s be a bit more constructive than that, and look at mobile usability in the sense of how to do it right, and use their mistakes for opposite examples of mobile usability done properly.

Input Issues:

Until all of the engineers out there get their heads out of their butts, and realize that every mobile device, be it smart phone, tablet or anything somewhere between all need to have slide out physical keyboards … we’re stuck with some serious input issues that can’t really be fixed with an easy button.

Of course, if you’re reading this, then you’ve undoubtedly used a mobile device for at least a little while, and you know all about the user experience obtained from actually using a capacitive or resistive touch screen. Sure, you get used to it, and in some applications of the technology, it’s genuinely advantageous … but more often than not, you spend half the time fighting it.

Why is this? Why, because software and system developers have no common sense when it comes to resolution scale on these devices. Initially, they were all very low resolution (about the equivalent of 420p, or 800×400). At that resolution, everything is very huge, and even the meatiest-handed user can easily hit what they mean to, unless it’s the especially tiny and awful touch keyboards on smartphones which there is no salvaging from here on.

But, they quickly became sharper resolution, and in PC fashion, all of the designers just let the controls shrink in direct ration. The result is that half of the things on a high res mobile device or tablet are impossible to hit.

What do we walk away with from this? Well, when you design your mobile software, be sure that the controls are big and easy to hit at any resolution. I know screen real estate is limited on such devices, meaning immensity of controls is naturally an unpleasant thought, but too bad. It’s either “waste” your limited screen space thus requiring more navigation, or have your program be an exercise in supreme frustration to use in any capacity.

Form Entry:

The other big thing to consider is that form entry from mobile is tedious for typical form entry reasons as well as the above input problems. So, remember how I said forcing numbers in passwords is never okay under any circumstances? It’s even more never okay on mobile where you have to navigate to and from numbers on a touch keyboard.

For this same reason, making you retype things for confirmation is also never okay on mobile.


Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.