Mobile & handheld usability testing – why it matters




Mobile phone and PDA usability testing is critical to your business. In fact, mobile and handheld usability testing could be even more important than computer-based usability testing. Here are 3 major reasons:


1. Market Size

The number of people accessing the Internet from mobile and handheld devices is increasing at an enormous rate – Mobile usage has already overtook desktop usage in 2014, as seen in the chart below.




2. Level of Expertise

In general, people have much less experience with using their mobile to go online than they do with using their computer. This means that computer-based users can be assumed to have a higher level of existing expertise than mobile and handheld users.


3. Platforms

The platform through which users access your site is far less predictable when they use mobile phones. Computer-based site visitors generally only differ from one another in their browser and operating system, whereas the diverse types of mobile phones and PDAs can differ drastically.


Now, which mobile phones and PDAs do you need to consider?

As mobile phones and PDAs can differ from one another dramatically, it radically changes how users experience and use websites. Some ways in which handheld devices can differ include:

  • Screen size (small vs. large)
  • Screen layout (portrait vs. landscape)
  • Input device (stylus, numeric keypad, dial-wheel, QWERTY keypad)

As differences in mobile phone / PDA can have such a profound effect on users’ experiences of your site, you should try to test your site with as many mobile phones and PDAs as possible.

Of course, it is impossible to test with every mobile phone and PDA. So, here are some ideas to help you narrow down the number of devices you’ll need to test with:

  • Your mobile site visitors may belong to a specific set of audiences that tend to prefer particular types of phones (e.g. phones with larger screens that are designed to support online access vs. small-screen models that aren’t).
  • There are ‘phone families’ that offer a very similar user experience (and will not need to be tested individually).
  • You may only want to test with the most popular mobile phone models that are being used to access your site (you can check your site statistics to find out this information).


Who do you want to test with?

The people you want to conduct your mobile phone usability testing sessions with will, of course, depend on your business and its audience. Some things to bear in mind include:

  • How much experience they should have of using their mobile phones to access services. This is particularly important as the market for accessing online services through mobile phones is growing and the percent of ‘complete novices’ (i.e. people using the technology for the first time) will be far higher than for computer users of your website.
  • Which mobile phone or PDA they have. We would usually recommend that people use their own mobile phone in a session, so the test can focus on your website and not on the way the handheld device works.


Where should mobile usability testing sessions be conducted?

Where, when and how a mobile phone is used is critical to a person’s experience of the site they are accessing. Any of the following circumstances could influence this experience and are therefore considerations of the site’s usability:

  • Lighting
  • Background noise
  • Distractions
  • Multi-tasking
  • Physical movement

Mobile phones and PDAs are used in the real world, so usability testing of handheld devices should not only take place in laboratory settings, but also in the real world where these circumstances are taken into consideration.

How do you run mobile phone usability sessions?

It will be based on your business and its audience, but the most popular methods of mobile usability testing include:

  • Lab-based (using a camera to record the session)
  • Diary-studies (asking people to keep a diary of how they have used their mobile phone and any problems they encounter)
  • Paper prototypes (running usability testing on a paper-based version of the site, using mobile phone screen-sized pieces of paper)

With that, test your website for mobile phone and PDA usability today – for it matters.

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