Nielsen Norman Group Says Mobile User Experience Stinks

In a report out today, usability experts Nielsen Norman Group declare the mobile Web a frustrating place where users are unable to complete intended tasks most of the time:

[T]he average success rate for users completing tasks on the mobile Internet was 59 percent compared to an average success rate of 80 percent for websites accessed on a regular PC . . . Not counting poor cellular signal, researchers identified four main obstacles that mobile users face to getting a good user experience:

  • Small screens: When users see fewer options at any given time, all interactions become harder to do
  • Awkward input: Text entry is particularly slow and error prone, even on phones with mini-keyboards, and it is difficult to operate GUI widgets without a mouse
  • Download delays: Getting to the next screen takes forever, often longer than it would on a dial-up connection
  • Mis-designed websites: Sites optimized for usability under desktop conditions, meaning they don't follow guidelines for mobile access, create all kinds of additional obstacles for mobile users

The report thus faults everyone in the ecosystem for the poor experience: handset OEMs, publishers and carriers. Here's more on the methodology involved in the study:

Diary study. 14 participants from 6 countries (Australia, The Netherlands, Romania, Singapore, UK, and US) logged everything they did with their mobile device — aside from making phone calls — for about a week. For each activity, they sent us a Twitter message on the spot; at the end of each day, we sent them a questionnaire to collect more in-depth information.

User testing. 48 people participated in usability studies using their own phones, and we recorded sessions with a document camera. Half of the participants were men and half were women. The age distribution was fairly even across the 20–49 year range; a smaller number of users were age 50 and above. Of the 48 participants, 33 were in the US (two locations) and 15 were in London.

Cross-platform review. We conducted a design review of 20 sites, using 6 phones: one feature phone, three different smartphones, and two different touch phones

Here are success rates broken out by phone type (no further segmentation in the report by OEM is provided):

Here's an interesting set of behavioral data on what activities participants conducted and content they sought on their phones over the course of the study:

NNG study on mobile usability

Source: Nielsen Norman Group

After the poor user experience data, much of the report is devoted to design and usability recommendations for publishers. There's further detail comparing success with mobile-specific vs. PC based sites accessed on mobile devices. The report also compares UK and US user results, with UK sites and users performing at generally higher levels than their US counterparts.

Last month Crowd Science released a report (based on US survey data with users over 14) that showed high levels of satisfaction for iPhone users, especially vs. BlackBerry:

Crowd Source

Source: Crowd Science

If the "touch-phone" category in the Nielsen report is mostly iPhones (I suspect that it is) then the behavioral data it provides are basically in accord with the survey/satisfaction data in the Crowd Science report cited above. 

Our consumer survey data also show that the most engaged and frequent mobile Internet audiences are on smartphones and the iPhone in particular. The usability of these devices is one explanation -- but also cost. People on feature phones tend not to have data plans and so are inhibited from using data services, because of cost uncertainty as well as generally poor user experience.

Satisfaction and usability data should improve as people upgrade from feature phones and non-touchscreen smartphones to the iPhone, Pre, Android devices, WinMo 6.5 devices (and above), Storm 2 (not yet out) and so on. 

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Related: See how PaidContent spins the same results in a very different way: Study Shows Browsing On The iPhone Is Nearly As Good As Using A PC.