Mobile web users have 35 per cent less success completing website tasks on cell phones than they do on a PC, according to a study.

Small screens, awkward input, download delays and badly designed websites were all given as obstacles to a good browsing experience.

The results led usability researchers at the Nielsen Norman Group to conclude in their report that it is neither "easy nor pleasant" for people to use the Web on their mobile phones.

Conducted in the US and UK, the studies found that the average success rate for users completing tasks on the mobile Internet was 59 per cent.

This compared to an average success rate of 80 per cent for websites accessed on a regular PC.

Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, said: "The phrase ‘mobile usability’ is pretty much an oxymoron.

Jakob Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group

"Observing users suffer during our user sessions reminded us of the very first usability studies we did with traditional websites in 1994. It was that bad."

Not counting poor cellular signal, researchers identified four main obstacles that mobile users face to getting a good user experience:

  • Small screens: When users see fewer options at any given time, all interactions become harder to do
  • Awkward input: Text entry is particularly slow and error prone, even on phones with mini-keyboards, and it is difficult to operate GUI widgets without a mouse
  • Download delays: Getting to the next screen takes forever, often longer than it would on a dial-up connection
  • Mis-designed websites: Sites optimized for usability under desktop conditions, meaning they don’t follow guidelines for mobile access, create all kinds of additional obstacles for mobile users

Raluca Budiu, lead researcher for the study and co-author of the study, Usability of Mobile Websites, said the first two problems are inherent to mobile devices.

"As for connectivity, it’s going to take many years before mobile connections are as fast as even a modest cable modem," she said.

"The key opportunity for improving the mobile user experience lies in websites being designed specifically for better mobile usability."

The researchers found that when test participants used sites designed specifically for mobile devices, their success rates averaged 64 per cent compared to the 53 per cent success rate they experienced when using "full" sites on their mobile phones – in other words, the same sites offered to PC users.

The report said that user performance could be improved by 20 per cent by creating mobile-optimized sites.

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