Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not so fast – Browser Web Rendering and Search are Different

We are so used to the PC-based web that we sometimes fail to recognize that what we have on the phone is something very different. A good way to look at this is to separate web rendering from search. Let us start with rendering!

Does the site look good on the phone and is it usable? Two very different questions that are not necessarily related as looking good have to do with design, colors, eye candy, pictures etc. Usability means that the mobile phone user can quickly find what they look for and use site related menus, entry-fields and links. It also means that there is some immediacy between hitting enter and getting results back! By this standard, most real web sites fail miserably when presented on a phone browser. Mobile web sites do much better although their usability differs between phones. However, recent attempts to ‘standardize’ browser rendering with ‘web-kit’ based solutions is certainly a step in the right direction as it makes it much easier for web site developers to develop sites that look good and are usable on a number of phones and phone platforms from different manufacturers!

But what good are good looking usable sites if you can’t find them? As most of us do not walk around with memorized URLs in our head, we depend on having a search function that is usable. So are today’s phone search any good? Well, not really. As a start, search results that generate long lists of web sites without regard to whether they are usable or not do not constitute a good user experience. Nor do lists of general results that are not what we are looking for. We also do not want to have to type in several words just to get back results that are too narrow. And what about the search engines that supposedly give us mobile friendly results, how do we incorporate them in our search. Finally, once we have found what interest us and the site looks really usable, we want to add it to our favorites so we can refer to the site often. Bookmarks? Tabs? Well a lot of questions but no clear emerging solutions for search that really works on a mobile.

So while rendering seems to be heading in the right direction mobile search still leaves a lot to be desired. More on that in a later blog!

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