Hey Mobile, Are We There Yet?

Anyone who’s paid even the most cursory attention these past few years has heard the rising chorus touting the mobile platform. And with good reason: cell phones enjoy both incredible ubiquity and total devotion. As of July, the US market had continued it’s remarkable growth to reach 57 million users. People with cell phone feel naked without them, using them dozens of times a day. All of which makes mobile an exciting new platform for marketers.

The only hitch is that despite the hype, the number of truly successful mobile platform programs remains relatively insignificant.

People use mobile either for information or connection, neither of which tolerate an interruptive message very well. This forces marketers to find new ways to position their messages in helpful, assistive ways–something that presents a novel creative challenge and uncertain metrics for ROI.

But the challenge of reinvention doesn’t just exist for marketers—it seems consumers have little interest in reinventing either. According to a thousand person study by Gomez Inc., a web application testing firm, mobile Web users are frustrated by the experience. Between slow load times, site crashes and awkward formatting, the smart phone web experience is already madding, even before it slows further to deliver marketing messages.

Still Working Out Web Optimization Issues...

Still Working Out Web Optimization Issues...

The real issue springs from the direct comparison between mobile web and broadband work and home connections. The load times are simply night and day. And then there’s the obvious but undeniable issue of radically diminished screen size. My cell screen is less than 6% the size of my laptop’s. As someone who has requited himself to the fact that as a phone, my iPhone makes a great iPod, reliability remains a major issue. Downtown Chicago doesn’t have consistent 3G coverage? You’ve got to be kidding. Thank goodness for Cricket‘s reliable, extensive and ever-expanding network of 3G towers…

It only gets worse for mobile advocates, since half of all users report that they will only wait six to ten seconds before giving up on a site.

The upshot of these negative experiences is that they actually hurt brand perceptions. Frustrate a user once and they are highly-unlikely to give you a second chance.

For those committed to mobile—and there are many in our business—the good news is that 80% claim they would access mobile web sites more often if the experience mirrored their PC for speed and reliability. And true believers will no doubt glom onto the fact that Gomez did not differentiate between regular cell phone and smartphone users—particularly given that another study byQuestus, AOL, and Universal McCann found 80% of smartphone users were satisfied with their mobile web experiences.

The limits of our present technology create conflict for users, but still, the mobile promise remains tantalizing out on the horizon. We’re just not there yet.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79