Beauty is in the i of the beholder?

I am interested to know how many organisations out there are running the "am I optimised for an iPhone or iPod touch" test as well as the various usability, accessibility, browser compatibility, search engine optimisation, and other tests we usually run when developing new online products or services?

I'm willing to bet not many. In fact I know you are not. Because I have an iPhone, and a lot of your web content is not doing it for me. Nor are your documents. Nor your emails. So in this series of posts I want to start thinking about some things we can do to make our online offerings - or at least those relevant to mobile device users - iFriendly.

To me, this starts with acknowledging the iUser – just one of a number of mobile users out there who might seek access to the services we provide.

Getting to know the iUser

One of the reasons I got an iPhone is because I like to travel. I like to travel and I like to stay in touch with people but I don't always like to lug around a laptop, guidebook, and camera; nor to sit in dirty internet cafes trying to work out how to reset Google from German to English.

I am also of the generation that does not retain certain types of information because I know how to find it if I need to. Why duplicate the effort of millions of servers?

Here are some other things you might like to know if you want me to keep in touch with your website now that I am no longer shackled to a desktop. I'll look more deeply at the significance of these points in further posts:

  1. Generally, I am the same as the iPod touch user (a more likely visitor to your site if you are in New Zealand) except I have phone apps too.
  2. For better or worse, I am using Safari, and it's Safari for iPhone not for the computer desktop.
  3. I am using my fingers, not a mouse. Now, my fingers are not exactly sausages, but they're not a precision input device like a stylus either.... I wonder if there'd be a market for a thimble-type thing with a small cube on the top for precision touching? Call it nimble touch or something. Apologies, I digress....
  4. My middle finger can't cut, copy or paste (though come to think of it this would actually be kind of useful in everyday life). What I am mainly doing is tapping and pinching, pressing and panning. Yes, I realise this sounds a little odd.
  5. I can't resize my browser window but I can and will zoom – a lot – and I will move your content around all over the place under my squiddly sized (but zoomifying) viewing window, which can be either portrait or landscape. Imagine someone interacting with a newspaper page using a rectangular magnifying glass. That's me, my iPhone, and your current web page. Sort of.
  6. I am in the real world. Maybe I am in a bookshop wanting to know whether I should pay $35 for a new title or get it from your library. Maybe I can't remember what time you close. The real world has a lot of other sensory stuff going on. Don't add to my confusion.
  7. I'm probably in some place with wifi. For the most part, I am in an experience – I don't want an experience. I just want information relevant to my context, or the context I am shortly going to be in, and I want it now.
  8. I am in transit. I may be on the train (OK, so it's not a New Zealand train). I could be in the airport waiting for my plane, or out on the street. I am going places! My primary destination is not your website. Sorry. Usually it's your information relevant to my site, where I am with my iPhone that counts.
  9. I am Googling to find stuff because, whether rightly or wrongly, my device comes with Google built in. If you are not optimised for one of these search engines, I'll find you but it will be hard. I may bookmark you though – and I seem to be using my RSS feed reader more than usual. What I'm not doing so much is browsing.
  10. Because I am that kind of person, I think cellphone and keitai fiction is cool and I'd like to see libraries offering me nano-works like this for when I am sitting in an airport or on a train. A bit like the Wellington poetry on buses initiative. But I may be alone in this.

Google, which has a mobile user experience strategy, categorises mobile users into three behaviour groups: Repetitive now, Bored now, Urgent now.

So far I have been oscillating between bored (waiting for stuff to happen, nobody around to talk to, didn't bring a book) and urgent (need some information fast to help make something happen).

The question is how can you let me reach out and touch your website? I'll put forward some personal thoughts and beginner's research to that end in the next post.

By Virginia Gow

Virginia is really smart. Really really smart.

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