Improving mobile internet usability

by Alexander Baxevanis on 10 February 2009

When the Internet first came to mobile phones it was an unwieldy expensive affair. An advert at the time showed a man about to encounter a snake, and he used his handset to instantly find out whether it was poisonous or not, but the reality was far from this well spun idea. Today the 3rd generation of mobile phone networking technology (3G) is now included as standard on most modern handsets. This has given mobile users the ability to surf websites at broadband speeds.

However, whether you think that handset manufacturers have been able to keep up with this speed increase is another question entirely! There's a whole set of problems faced by mobile users when it comes to accessing the Internet, even in these relatively advanced times.

Interface problems

A key issue with using the Internet on your mobile is that most handsets just come with a standard keypad and a couple of hot keys. There's no mouse and no keyboard, so scrolling around web pages and selecting an area to click on can be a hassle. This problem's been solved somewhat by the recent tirade of touch screen handsets flooding the market. Flicking around a web page with your finger and tapping to select icons is available on most touch screen handsets, and some even come with a full QWERTY keyboard function when you're typing text.

However, the touch screen interfaces have been implemented with varying success. Apple's iPhone is one of the best examples of a touch screen phone that works well with the Internet. This is partly because its screen can register multiple touches at once unlike other handsets from manufacturers like LG. So on the iPhone, moving around and zooming in and out on web content is easier, but this brings us neatly onto the next problem.

Adjusting sites for a mobile platform

Another issue with using your mobile to surf the web is the size of the screen. The biggest screens are only around 3.5 inches, a fraction of the size of a PC or laptop monitor. Websites either have to create versions which are mobile friendly (ideally) or rely on the mobile's browser software to be able to cope with the large size.

Being able to zoom in and out to navigate a web page and view all of its content is a must, as is having the necessary third party software installed (like flash player compatibility for viewing and streaming video from online sites). This is essential in creating a good mobile Internet experience on a given handset.

How to improve

It'll definitely pay for manufacturers to work on their browser software more. As Apple has shown with its Safari software, it's possible to create a good online experience on a mobile phone, but it takes innovation and user friendliness to achieve. The other key is improved interfaces, like BlackBerrys with their full keypads and scroll buttons or the innovative click to touch Storm handset. Mobile phone deals will also have to bring down the price of mobile Internet access to attract more people to the market.

This article was written by the editorial team at was the UK's first retail mobile phone website (launched in 1995) and is now the largest web-only mobile phone store in the UK, processing thousands of orders every month.

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