Before we get into the topic of mobile web design, allow us to present three intriguing tidbits of trivia you may appreciate.
Trivia item #1:
Between 2008—the year Apple opened its online app store—and 2014, smartphone users downloaded 75 billion apps. Take a moment to visualize 75 billion. If apps were pennies, for example, 75 billion of them, laid out like a carpet, would cover the island of Manhattan.
In the golden age of the app, if you owned a smartphone and you wanted to play a game, map a route, make a reservation, or hail a cab, there was an app for that. Apps were abundant, cheap, and fun—and we couldn’t get enough of them. The average smartphone user downloaded them at the rate of 30 per month. [Statistics courtesy of The U.S. Mobile App Report, a white paper published by comScore in 2014.]
Trivia item #2:
Today, around two-thirds (64 percent) of U.S. adults own a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011. That’s around 150 million smartphones—a 29 percent spike in five years. [Statistics courtesy of U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015, a Pew Research Center report.]
Trivia item #3 (in the form of a little quiz):
Q: Today—with millions of people virtually glued to their smartphones—how many apps do you suppose the majority of users download in an average month?
Wait for it . . .
Yup. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Two-thirds of all smartphone users are simply not downloading any apps. And most of the remaining third of us download between just one and three apps per month.
Trouble in app-utopia?
So, what’s going on? There are a number of theories floating around. It’s tempting to deduce that we’re just not that into apps anymore. But in reality, the majority of smartphone users still use apps every day. It’s just that we tend to keep using favorites—Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Google, Instagram, and other popular apps—instead of downloading new ones. In fact, according to the comScore report, 42 percent of all smartphone app time is spent on our single most used app, with 75 percent of app time devoted to our top four apps.
Mobile Websites on the Rise
There is another factor that may be skewing the stats. Smartphone users on the go are relying more and more on mobile websites.
In 2015, SimilarWeb analyzed mobile web usage across 24 industry categories, based on 10,000 mobile sites. The resulting report—The State of Mobile Web in the U.S. 2015—revealed that nearly 56 percent of internet traffic comes from mobile devices. We can’t help but wonder if all those former app fanatics are using fewer apps because they’re visiting more mobile websites. Indeed, the Pew Research Center tracked the habits of smartphone users over a 14-day period and found that 89 percent used their smartphones to access the internet. Top destinations for mobile browsers include house hunting and job seeking sites, online banking, healthcare information, and government services.
But the number of website visits tells only part of the story. Time spent on those sites is another important metric.
The SimilarWeb study found that, on average, visitors spend less time on websites when using mobile devices (three minutes per visit) than when using desktop computers (five minutes per visit). These numbers may be telling us something about mobile habits and user expectations in general.
For one thing, people consume information differently on mobile devices than on desktop computers. Mobile internet users typically want easy access to key information: how to find a certain address, where to eat, what time the next museum tour begins, when the toy store closes, how to treat a sunburn. They want a website that is easy to navigate using just their fingers. They want quick, clean, and concise answers to immediate questions. What they don’t want is a full-sized website shrunk down to fit into the palm of their hand—impossible to read and navigate without constant panning and zooming. And they seem to prefer to “get in and out” quickly without extensive browsing and reading.
The Moral of the Story
Mobile apps serve a purpose and are here to stay—at least for a while. But the vast majority of smartphone users surf the web on the go. They expect mobile websites that are responsive, easy to navigate, and optimized for their mobile devices.