We are the minority

On the heels of the post from the weekend, I have been thinking more and more about how to implement a single code base that works on all devices. When talking about this at work with a coworker, he was skeptical. I described what I have heard about the Boston Globe redesign and he said, “nirvana, it doesn’t exist.” Then he said, “when I am on my mobile, I want to complete my task quickly and easily and be done.” I pointed out to him that not everyone is like him, that many people are using their mobile devices to read on, to dive deeper.

As I thought about this conversation in the hours after, I realized something significant. My coworker has an iPhone 4, a personal laptop that he brings with him to work most days, he sits at a 24” monitor with a PC with Windows 7 on it, and recently he just talked about the iPad2 he had purchased. He has a lot of devices and he can choose to read long form things on something other than his mobile because he has the choice, he has the device. We are geeks, we make web applications for a living and we are quick to buy the latest and greatest to try it out, to see what it’s all about. But what I realized is that we are the minority. Most people aren’t like us. Most people do not have all kinds of computers and devices. Most people do not have extra computers sitting in closets that are old, but we just haven’t parted with them yet (actually most people are still using that old computer that my husband and I decided needed to be replaced). Many of my friends from college are now mothers of young children and their mobile phone is very much the main way they connect with the internet. Also, there are many folks sitting on the bus with me every morning and they are reading for 25 minutes or more (depending on their commute time) from a small screen.

I watched the slides from Scott Jehl’s Mobilism presentation yesterday and one in particular caught my attention, 25% of people in the US are Mobile Only, meaning they are accessing the internet almost exclusively from a mobile device and only infrequently or never use the desktop internet (Scott got his information from On Device Research, scroll down to the post titled “The ‘mobile’ only generation.” and I used that slide show to help elaborate what Scott’s slide said.) That statistic astounded me. I knew that in other parts of the world, such as Africa or Asia, this stat was much higher than the US, but 25% is a much higher number than I ever would have guessed for the US.

What this tells me is that the way I use devices and the way my colleagues use devices may not be the best indicator of how the general public uses them or how they want to be able to use them. Research and data are the keys to making sure you are meeting people’s needs and not just making an experience that meets the development teams ideas of what those needs are. It all goes back to the assumptions that I talked about in my last post. This information just cements it for me; we need to start asking our users what they want, or better yet, we need to design and create experiences that work well no matter the device/screen size of the user and let them access all that we have to offer in a meaningful way.