Speed matters in smartphone consumption


Consider this:

  • “Just-in-time” cell users (users who use their mobile phones to get information as it’s needed) “amount to 62% of the entire adult population.” (Pew Research)

  • “IDC expects 1.4 billion smartphones to be shipped worldwide in 2015 for a 12.2% year-over-year growth rate.” (IDC Report)

  • “After one second, users get impatient and notice they’re waiting for a slow computer to respond. The longer the wait, the more this impatience grows; after about 10 seconds, the average attention span is maxed out. “ (Jakob Nielsen, on time scales in user experience)

  • “About 60% of smartphone owners are now routinely using news apps on their smartphones. … About 40% of the owners who use smartphone news apps are using apps branded by newspapers.” (Reynolds Journalism Institute report)

In short, the smartphone market is still growing, news media is heavily consumed, and use patterns for phones (and the slowly growing wearables market) indicate reader impatience and repeated short-chunk information gathering patterns.

Your apps and mobile site must to reflect this need – easy to navigate, quick to respond, and easily consumed. No content is so great that readers will be willing to wait and wait – at least not a second time.

Working against performance are audience expectations of feature parity with the full Web, growing multi-media footprints, and third-party scripts (advertisers, widgets, etc.) that can improve content and/or revenue, all of which must be managed to meet lesser hardware power and memory offered by mobile devices. Hardware specs are constantly lapped by software capability.

Presuming the site/app begins with the necessary product focus, additional features should be weighed for trade-offs that enhance that focus against any drag the addition may impose – be it functional or perceptual.

The more complex your site or app, the more clever your user interface will need to be to provide a sense of speed and control, but also to get out of the readers’ way to their desired content.

  • Does the feature provide enough pizazz to offset any additional drag it places on the performance in “wow” or revenue terms?

  • Does the feature actually enhance the focus or just pad the buffet?

  • Has the external audience asked for this feature or is the need perceived by an internal audience? (You are not the user.)

It’s a balancing game – and one that inches up on you. A feature here and a feature there may not add much drag, but over time you may discover a host of barnacles slowing you down.

In addition to testing your users and using your own services constantly, there are a multitude of tools and services providing performance metrics and monitoring to help publishers better understand their apps and sites (New Relic, Soasta, Crittercism, Rigor, WebSitePulse, App Dynamics, WebPageTest.org, and Google PageSpeed Tools, to name a few).

They can often illustrate the performance impact of features and architecture, ferret out bottlenecks, and uncover targets for performance improvement.

Solid application performance is a balance of features, architecture, and strong interface design. On mobile, the bias of this balance should be on speed. Speedy load. Speedy navigation. Speedy consumption. All of which, properly implemented, derive from thoughtful development and a clear audience goal.

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