James Maconochie

Should Everything Go Mobile?

We are currently working with a customer to develop a secure customer portal addition to their public website.  A fundamental requirement for the portal was that it should be not only accessible to, but easily used by, any device regardless of screen resolution. Today this seems like a no brainer, given the increasing share and significant growth rate in website access from mobile devices, 17% of global web traffic comes through mobile1

This trend seems unlikely to change any time soon.  In the process of considering the solution and researching alternatives, I began to wonder at what point in the future would the responsive path become the de facto standard, and website owners would move away from custom mobile experiences.  This thinking is echoed in any number of blogs, articles and studies that many of us have seen.  We considered a couple of different approaches for customer portal, but ultimately decided that a responsive approach, i.e., one that causes the layout to adjust based upon the resolution (width) of the display of the device being used to access it, was the way to go.

One feature of the portal will allow customers of a particular product to acknowledge the receipt and acceptance of a notice of change to the design/specification of a particular product that will occur from a fixed future date.  At this time, the mechanism used to detail the change is a PDF file, which can be multiple pages in length, including text, photographs, schematic illustrations, tabular data, etc.  As such, although the notices can be viewed on a mobile phone using scrolling and zooming, it is far from an ideal experience.  This got me thinking about the question posed by the title of this article.

I am sure that the usability folks reading this will be screaming, "you need to find another way to share the information with users working with mobile devices!," I have no doubt there are better alternatives.  But if you put aside the details of my particular example, and just think about other instances where there is content that isn’t really useful unless it is shown in its entirety and at a sufficient level of magnification…. 

Imagine a drone operator trying to target a missile strike on a target using a smart phone, or a medical professional making a diagnosis and/or deciding a course of treatment from reviewing X-rays, or MRI results displayed on a smart phone.  These are deliberately provocative (and still possibly flawed) examples, but  I hope they clarify my point. 

I am certain that the increase in mobile device usage to access information and applications will continue, and I am generally sympathetic to the argument that mobile device users should be able to see and do everything that a user sitting in front of 27 inch monitor can.  However, I believe there are still situations where not every feature and function available to users on a high resolution monitor should go mobile.  Just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should.         

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