A Renewed Perspective

What two weeks of paternity leave taught me about being Mobile Only.

September 20, 2013

Due to the birth of my firstborn, Otis, I spent two weeks on paternity leave. My hands were literally filled (read: with poop) and I was confined to “mobile”1 devices for consumption: 90% iPhone, 10% iPad mini.

Mobile Only is an interesting lifestyle and I feel like I connected to our nation’s tween demographic. Through this experience I built up a list of feels I thought worth sharing:

#1: Ughck, Non-mobile sites

When I arrived at a non-mobile optimized site, it genuinely felt like the site just doesn’t care about me the user. I can’t just thumb through a tunnel of content, I have to zoom in and out, scouring microscopic text like a microfiche operator.

When left unsupported, I even found myself muttering, “This must be what Opera users feel like.” #sickburn

Brad Frost summed up the emotion in a recent post titled “Fuck You2. It’s over-the-top and I’m probably more moderate than most on the recent Progressive Enhancement debate, but the point was reinforced that lack of access/experience is discouraging if you’re on the wrong end of the support stick.

#2: Ughck, M-Dots

M-Dots tend to be the worst. With faulty and/or multiple redirections, it’s apparent that they’re usually an organizational afterthought. When an M-Dot did work, it tended to be a lean, content-driven version of its older sibling (good), only with cruftier JavaScript (terrible).

As it stands M-Dots are better than doing nothing at all. And sometimes better than responsive designs that aren’t tested on actual devices…

#3: Ughck, People who don’t test on actual mobile devices.

This should go without saying but it’s apparent this step is falling by the wayside for a lot of designers and developers. You can get ~90% the way in browser, but before launch day be sure to test on an actual device.

Here’s a short list of common problems:

  • Broken offscreen containers. Usually a video embed, which is easy to fix.
  • Awkward horizontal margins on paragraph content (too thin or noticeably too large).
  • Fullscreen div without -webkit-overflow-scrolling: touch;.
  • Responsive maps snafus.
  • Too giant heading font-sizes.
  • Disabled user zoom when helpful or needed.

Also, be careful of scroll fatigue. If something can be shorter, go ahead and tighten it up.

#4: Ughck, Waiting.

I spent a lot of time waiting for even the most simple of sites to load (even over Wi-Fi). This is no doubt because the average web page weight now approaching 1.6MB.

Native apps (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Vine/Etc) are pretty slow too. The “Time to First Tweet” (or whatever that particular app does) is pretty noticeable with frequent use. So, perhaps, it’s not just websites that have a problem.

Key Takeaways

The Dave Rupert Arm Chair Research Institute has concluded a few key findings from this social experiment. First, I should always have a Mobile Only persona in my mind when creating a site. That use case may be small now (in America), but it won’t be for long. In India, for example mobile usage has already overtaken desktop use.

Another good rule in life is: Pay attention to Google. If Google is chucking money at something, it must be pretty damn important. Google developer evangelists have been talking about speeding up mobile rendering for awhile now. I think most of the world, especially Mobile Only users, would benefit from a speed increase.

Time to start making those mobile views the key priority.

  1. Holding a newborn is really a quite “immobile” activity. 

  2. Rated PG-13 for Adult Language