When using my smartphone I often abandon websites and applications. Is it because they are unusable? No, though that doesn’t help. Is it because they don’t have the functionality I want? Not usually, though that can get a site abandoned pretty quickly. No, what drives me to abandon perfectly good websites, and even native apps, is waiting. If it takes longer to check an ATM app for my nearest machine than it does to walk across the street and get to a competitor’s machine then that app is useless. Likewise, if it takes longer to check my Facebook status than I have time for waiting for the elevator then the Facebook status will just have to wait for later.
Mobile usage is typically in-between other tasks. Waiting for an elevator; waiting in the coffee line; waiting for the crosswalk signal. All short opportunities to become top of mind, or be derided as far too slow to make it in today’s fast paced world.
Apparently, I’m not alone. The PEW Internet Project reports that the largest complaint (when weighted for the audiences who perform different tasks) is slow connection speeds:
For marketers creating mobile-optimized sites or apps that rely on dynamic data from the Internet, this issue is critical. The heuristic for user experience professionals when designing for the desktop is that, for an engaged user, a site has 8 seconds to load to the point that it gives a visitor something to view. For most users on the desktop this is no longer an issue as broadband is common and most (not all) sites load quickly. The mobile age has thrown us back a bit in terms of performance with the vast majority of connections never even approaching the theoretical speeds promised by 3G and LTE networks.
How to reduce the problem
A site or app owner can never completely overcome the connection issues of radio-frequency devices such as mobile phones, but there are a number of things that can be done.
Ensure the site shows HTML text before loading all the heavy graphics. This will give the users something to read while the graphics load.
Seek out and kill dead code that is cluttering up the downloads. This will keep the downloaded file sizes as small as possible.
Ensure graphics are optimized. When creating mobile versions of all content materials, do not take a high resolution image and simply scale it in the browser, ensure that the source file is as small and optimized as possible.
There are certainly other possible techniques. What are your favorite ways to reduce download lag on your mobile sites?