|Analysis of Web Content Delivered to a Mobile Computing Environment Page 1 of 9|
|Written by Anthony Perreault|
The purpose of my research was to analyze web content delivered to the mobile computing environment with two goals in mind: first, to determine if the content lost contextual relevance in the mobile environment and, second, to see if a set of effective design principles could be applied towards the mobile environment. My research combines a literature review in conjunction with a survey that encompasses both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze top-rated web sites in the mobile environment. Results from my literature review suggested that in the technical communication field there has been no research into the mobile environment since 2000, while in the engineering field there has been current research into how best to display content on a mobile computing device. Findings from the survey showed that some content did lose contextual relevance in that it was unusable without magnification. Once a page is magnified beyond a certain point there is a loss of navigational awareness within the site visited. Content that was designed and optimized for the mobile environment, however, maintained this contextual relevance. Given that close to half of the 49 web sites that I surveyed were designed for the mobile computing environment, it is obvious that a set of guidelines either existed or could be derived and applied to websites targeted for the mobile environment. I present these guidelines in the conclusion of my research.
According to the Telecommunications section of the United States Census Bureau’s 2008 Statistical Abstract, in 2006—the last year listed—there were over 233 million cellular telephone subscribers. Given that even the most basic cellular telephone can receive information from the Internet, this figure translates to 233 million plus people that can use their cell phones as mobile computing devices.
Due to the physical limitations of mobile computing devices—memory, CPU processing power, connectivity speed and signal quality, and perhaps most significantly screen display size—technical communicators face different challenges in designing Internet content for this medium as opposed to more traditional web content bound to a desktop or laptop computer. Mobile computing devices—cellular telephones (from the basic units through smartphones), Internet-capable Personal Data Assistances (PDAs), and PocketPCs—require technical communicators to rethink the presentation of content to these devices.
In delivering content to mobile computing devices, sacrifices must be made due to the nature of the mobility of the user. The user is not in a static environment that is controlled (air temperature, humidity, and lighting) with an optimized computer system that has a fast Internet connection. The user of a mobile computing device is often in an uncontrolled environment, on the move, and subject to changeable signal quality as they travel; even within the confines of a large city, signal quality can degrade, resulting in a delay in getting information on the mobile computing device.
The needs of the user in the mobile computing environment are also different than the needs of the user in the static environment. Very often the mobile user is looking for a specific piece of information, such as the location of a restaurant or travel directions. The mobile user is not idly surfing the Internet, gathering bits and pieces of information; they want a specific bit of information immediately, if not sooner.
My research questions, therefore, hinge on how content is delivered and displayed on mobile computing devices. It is reasonable to ask what sacrifices need to be made to the content when delivering it to a mobile computing device. How should technical communicators, who often are designers of web content, go about designing for this medium? Is there an optimal way to deliver content to a mobile computing device? Is the context of the content shifted when being delivered to a mobile computing device, with its small display, as opposed to the same or similar content delivered to a laptop computer?
To answer these questions I will begin this article by examining the technological means of how content is delivered to mobile computing devices. I will present, through a literature review, why and how designing content for mobile computing devices requires different strategies than for more traditional computer platforms. I will then present an analysis of several web sites that were viewed on a mobile computing device. I will discuss how the sites either pass or fail visual design through the use of Williams’ visual design guidelines. Finally, in the conclusion, I will present guidelines for technical communicators when designing web content for the mobile environment.