Touch-Phones: Changing The Way We Search
For most of us sitting in front of a PC, today’s search engines provide a “more than good enough” way to find information or entertainment on the world wide web. Mobile is different. Few of us could claim that we use mobile search several times a day, and when we do search it is often […]
For most of us sitting in front of a PC, today’s search engines provide a “more than good enough” way to find information or entertainment on the world wide web. Mobile is different. Few of us could claim that we use mobile search several times a day, and when we do search it is often a slow, unreliable and frustrating experience.
New touch screen devices, with iPhone and Android leading the way, are taking the mobile Internet into the mainstream. We now have the Apple app store with numerous touch-friendly apps in addition to the hundreds of thousands of touch-friendly websites that people can access.
Yet, there has been disappointingly little innovation in mobile search. The big mobile search engines are still serving up old-fashioned lists of desktop (i.e. full web) search results on touch devices. They are assuming that the full desktop web page is the best result for every search. Search engines that can crawl and index the touch-friendly web will improve upon today’s mobile search services in four crucial ways.
Speed. The typical size of touch-friendly web pages is 30 Kbytes. Typical page sizes on full websites range are around 500 KB—huge! While these full pages may download fine over the fast broadband networks with PCs, they download much more slowly on touch phones on either 3G or crowded public WiFi networks. A search engine that takes you immediately to mobile-friendly results is going to work a lot faster under real-world conditions than a search engine on a phone that takes you to 500 KB page results. It is important to note that speed is one characteristic that is relevant to both mobile and touch-friendly sites, and is crucial for app and web developers to consider during the design process. While sites initially created for mobile use slimmed down greatly, today’s touch-friendly versions are even slimmer.
User experience. Widgets are also easy to click on but not seeing much use in smartphones. Touch phone and PC screens are completely different sizes and shapes. Full websites can be accessed on most touch phones, but they require frequent scrolling, pinching and zooming that combine to make it harder for the user to find the content they are seeking. A well designed site for touch phone users e.g. m.espn.com is “finger-friendly” and helps users get what they need in just a few taps. A highly-relevant touch-friendly web page or app store page is often the better search result for the user than the full desktop page.
Mobile widgets can also maximize the experience on touch phones by providing a scaled-down user interface but now they typically perform a single function and are most useful in relation to RSS feeders, which are becoming outdated due to social aggregation sites such as Twitter, Facebook and StumbleUpon. With the increased availability of rich apps, widgets have lost traction in the past year.
Optimized modalities. Search behavior is different on touch phones than on PCs. Users are less willing to iterate their searches by making multiple modifications of their query for two reasons: it’s harder to type on a touch phone and the results usually load slower across the wireless network than they do on a desktop search engine. These two differences between desktop search and mobile search affect the way that people use the devices, therefore changing the type of content they search for on the go.
Commerce & monetization. Today, mobile users spend much less online than desktop users. This is because the user experience for buying bigger-ticket items doesn’t work well. It’s no fun trying to buy stuff from a full web site on a touch phone—too much pinching, scrolling and zooming—easier to just defer it until you get back to the PC. The touch-friendly web unlocks the door to much higher levels of m-commerce by making it much more convenient to transact on the phone.
New payment systems such as Square will draw increased levels of mobile spending, the since the touch web is still quite young, we will see more new mobile payment systems develop over time, bringing increased m-commerce and one-touch payments to touch devices. The ability to store payment information in one easily accessible and organized place (which we previously saw with PayPal, and currently see with the Apple app store) will make touch devices an even more attractive payment method. As more money gets spent on mobile devices, the value of mobile search ads will continue to increase as companies try and capture shoppers.
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