The importance of being mobile friendly?

1 Jun

Sign painted on the wall

Photo by Matthieu Aubry

Top of my Christmas list at the moment (if it was Christmas, and if we were talking about a really dull work-based Santa) would be to make The Careers Group websites more mobile friendly. Since I got a new netbook, I have been re-discovering the online world from a heavily-cropped 1024 x 600 resolution perspective, which has greatly reduced my patience for text and complex navigation. Even our careers advisers have iPhones now, and I can’t say all our websites are  exactly mobile-friendly.  Up to now, well I considered it desirable but not essential that our sites work on anything but a standard PC monitor – so how important is it really?

I had a quick skim over our Google Analytics today, and noted that actually despite all this iPhone buzz, only about 0.5% of our visitors to our main website are using an iPhone. Other mobile phone users make up about another 0.5%. In fact Linux users are a more significant group and I don’t hear anyone suggesting we pursue them. Is this normal or is this just a sign of how awkward our site is to use on a phone?

Screen resolution was my next stop – most users are on 1024×768 and above, with a drift towards high-end resolutions. But there was also an island of growth in the mid-range netbook region.

Another interesting point was that Internet Explorer has definitely lost ground to other browsers in the past year, only just clinging to the top spot, ahead of Firefox. Chrome in particular is showing growth in popularity. I’d heard about the general trends, but it is good to see it is true of our users too.

Let's optimise for them all! (Photo by andyi)

So what does this mean for website development? The high-resolution, static user remains far and away the most significant, which is fine for our current sites. But looking at growth areas, both the netbook and the mobile phone seem important, with the netbook segment currently the larger. So do we optimise our traditional sites to do both high-res and netbook – how flexible can a layout be? Do we create a separate mobile website, or a mobile app?

It did get me thinking too – are there really a substantial number of students using iPhones, or is the growing popularity of making a university iPhone app more of a buzzy marketing thing? Looking at our numbers, Android, Symbian and Blackberry users are growing just as quickly (if not more) but my general impression (correct me if I’m wrong) is of fewer generic university smartphone apps like this

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