Usability experts often espouse many cardinal rules such as:
- People hate filling in forms.
- People don't read long bits of text you put on the screen or in an email.
- People don't like to give you all their personal details just to try your service.
- People don't like to download something just to be able to try your service.
- People don't like too many choices.
- People prefer a pricing structure that is easy to understand.
They say that all of the above are barriers to entry and sources of user confusion that you need to eliminate. Perhaps these are true but you might want to get some data before making bet bets on them.
But some things are just damn obvious:
Data entry of URLs on a regular phone keyboard is a major pain.
For English, you have to press a key up to 4 times to get the letter you want, and rather than place the more popular characters in position 1 on each key they went with a simple alphabetical listing so you need multiple key presses more often than not (see Text Message Outrage problem to solve this). The damn keys are so small you can easily hit 3 different ones with "fat thumb syndrome". As well, URLs always contain some non-alphanumeric codes. "http://www.necessaryandsufficient.net" has a colon, 2 periods, and 2 forward slashes. Granted, advanced users will know that they can omit the "http://www." prefix assuming the website operator knows what they are doing with DNS, but it's still likely that there will be a forward slash in the URL which almost always requires shifting to an alternate character display.
These aren't new problem so companies have tried to address the problem with several innovations but many of them fall short:.
Predictive text and auto-complete are based on language dictionaries which don't contain trade names so unfortunately that isn't much help to you.
Voice recognition is a promising technology but it hasn't quite got their yet,
On-screen digital keyboards like that found on the iPhone and HTC Magic have error-correction algorithms so you don't ever hit 2 or more keys at once, but that still doesn't help with a lengthy URLs.
But there are 2 innovations that are really useful:
URL shortening services like tinyurl and bit.ly help website operators transform longer URLs into much shorter URLs. Mobile browsers will certainly appreciate that, and it uses fewer precious characters if you use an SMS-based distribution service like Twitter. Here's my bit.ly URL:
The other nifty innovation is QR codes. I've seen these at conferences, on billboards, in department stores, in magazines and on price tags. Essentially they are 2-dimensional bar codes that encode some information like a URL. The idea is, the mobile surfer uses the camera on their phone to take a picture of the bar code. Some software on the phone converts the image to the textual string that represents the URL and pops open the phones web browser at the specified URL. So all the user had to do was to take a photo - no data entry needed at all!
If you have an Android phone, like I do, grab the zxing application from the Appstore, fire it up, and put the cross-hairs on the bar code above. Within seconds it should acquire and give you the decoded text with some options. The iPhone has similar apps but the camera quality on the iPhone isn't great so you'll need to be closer to the qr-code.
QR-codes can contain 4000 odd alphanumeric characters which is more than enough for URLs, and they are royalty-free even though they are patented by the Japanese corporation, Denso Wave. The magic behind it involves Reed-Solomon error correction which is the same technology used by your DVD player. [That reminds me of a crypto scheme I had to implement a while ago called Shamir Shared Secret but more on that another time].
So the message is clear. If you want to be kind to your mobile users give them qr-codes to photograph
or at the very least give them a shortened URL to minimise data entry and maximise their ability the remember it!