For A More Optimal Experience

A few weeks ago I decided to run the following experiment: for 10 days, I would not use my phone’s native apps and instead I would solely rely on accessing web sites and services through a web browser. Phone: iPhone 6. Browser: Safari. iOS: 8.3. The results were clear, disappointing and outright frustrating.

For a more optimal experience …

Last time I checked my calendar, we’re circa year 2015 AD and why must we use the same anti-patterns that were so prevalent in 1994 AD? Just about every major Internet web site had one of these banners first thing landing on their mobile site. “For a more optimal experience download our app”. “Click here to download our app from the store”. These are not mom-and-pop sites running on a shoestring budget. When I say major players I mean the Twitters, Facebooks and Googles of the world. Every major financial institution I do business with, my utility company, my cable company, my mobile provider. All had that annoying banner or overlay to download their native app. BRB while I download Netscape and change my resolution to 800x600 while at it.

Responsive Design Mah Butt

You’ve read all about it for the last 3-4 years. You hear the pros professing the beauty and wonder of responsive images, responsive this, responsive layouts that. I have to call BS on that (not the sentiment, but the execution to date). Almost every single website I used while in this self-imposed punishment, I mean, experiment was a mess - full stop. Dropdowns that would take the whole screen, accordions collapsing or expanding out of view, images out of view, even trivial stuff like checkboxes, radio buttons, etc. All were screwed up in some way or another. Too big, too small, to easy to tap by accident, to hard to tap on purpose I could go on and on and on.

Are you done rendering yet?

One thing that was consistent, unfortunately, is how slow rending of web pages was. Even on fast LTE and WiFi connections. Rendering FB and Twitter is roughly an order of magnitude slower than on a regular web browser. Often the rendering was quirky and erratic as well. Things moving in the screen as the browser painted the elements to the screen and calculated the geometry – I suppose.

Anti-patterns made even worse!

You know all those annoying anti-patterns you see in many websites like scroll-jacking, overlay menus, modal windows, modal windows spawning from other modal windows and so forth. All of that nonsense is made even worse when browsing on a phone. It makes those websites outright and completely unusable.

Events? What Events?

Tap is not click, but close enough? Long-tap who knows? Swipe is not scroll or maybe it is? Shake has no analogous in the regular browser world. Regardless, the mess in the mapping of finger-input and mouse-input makes for a terrible user experience and some of the websites I visited made it worse by treating those events inconsistently depending on context. Swipe might trigger an overlay menu in one page or it might mean scroll in another, for instance.

Terrible

I’m fully aware this post comes across a complaint-fest with no prescription to improve it. And maybe it is. The main take away from my “experiment” and this post is that in its current form is simply irredeemably terrible. Worse yet, I don’t think this situation will improve until the big players begin leading by example and stop the practice to drive their mobile traffic to their mobile apps.