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I'm working on yet another time-tracking web application. This application has, next to the normal site, a mobile version. Now I wonder, is it ok for the mobile version to be a limited subset of the full site?

For example, the mobile version shows a very limited overview of today's activities, while in the full site you get a full blown view of today's activities. Also, in the full site you can view statistics and manage all settings, which you can't in the mobile version.

Do users care about this? The way I see it (so far) is that the mobile version should just have the functionalities that you really need being on the road. Also, if I would make the mobile version contain all the features, I feel like it would be too bloated and I would end up with a lot of usability questions/problems.

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It's really impossible to answer without a lot more context...particularly what your users need to do with your web site and if those needs differ depending on whether or not they are on a mobile device or not. –  DA01 Jan 22 '12 at 23:02
    
If you go the route of specializing the mobile site for particular activities, please provide a way to get to the main site easily. One reason I use a mobile browser is to access sites (often blogs) blocked by the corporate firewall. Don't assume that mobile browser means browsing on the move. –  Bevan Jan 23 '12 at 3:22

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Mobile websites should not be mobile versions of desktop websites - they should be a service or product for mobile usage. That means that yes, if certain content isn't relevant 'on the road', or if its inclusion makes it harder to provide an interface that works better in a mobile context, you should consider chopping it.

And remember, if needs be, you can always offer the ability to switch back into the non-mobile version. Try to set cookies or session data so users don't need to do so repeatedly, though.

Another, practical matter: delivering your entire desktop service to mobile is going to be a big, chunky, waterfall project. And waterfall sucks. Stay agile and deliver iteratively, and only adapt your mobile service to include desktop extras as and when you can prove the business need with empirical evidence. The alternative is madness.

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Perfect answer, but do you have any good sources to back this up? We all "know" this to be true, but I'd be interested if anyone has run across good usability testing on mobile sites (or the like) that supports this. –  Daniel Newman Jan 23 '12 at 20:21
    
Really, individual mobile services are too different in nature and purpose to run those sorts of comparative tests. You can't really test for something as abstract that, as what constitutes 'mobile critical' functionality will vary from application to application, and context to context. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Jan 24 '12 at 9:24
    
And what about the user expectations?If i'm on the desktop version and see one feature, and when i go to mobile and i can't find it, i think it's kind of frustrating and don't understand why it's off. Maybe a warning telling the user that the feature is not on mobile and that we should go to the desktop version would be better don't you agree? –  dutraveller Jan 17 at 11:19
    
@dutraveller - this post is two years old, and I haven't even touched UX work in about as long. I don't have any opinion either way any more. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Jan 23 at 21:41

Certainly.

Mobile users have much less attention and time to spend on your site (as discussed in the excelent resource Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski). This means extraneous, rarely used actions will get in the way.

Take a page from mobile apps. Mobile apps are effective because they give the features a mobile user needs without the adds, sales pitches and generally wasted space of a website.

Full featured sites on a 3.5 inch screen are simple overwhelming and hard to structure well. Your site's structure will benefit greatly by trimming the fat and allow you to present everything much more elegantly. Including every feature forces you to hide things behind menus, decide what gets hidden and how--the research needed to make that work is much more complicated than just finding out the important thing; what mobile users can be without.

The facebook mobile site is a great example of this. What's my priority on mobile facebook? Sharing my status, photos and location--these are all handled in a nice top bar for instant posting of content. Reading others' content is also important; it's right there on the front page in a news feed.

Do mobile users really need some features? Things like managing privacy/account settings are pretty rare and can always wait until a user gets to their desktop machine. Extraneous features like "about us" might not be relevant if your mobile site is a web app.

Think like an app first, then think very hard if you need any features beyond the core set of actions that your mobile users need to do.

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Does "mobile" include "tablet"? If it does, then the answer is probably no. Expect tablets to become significant enough to replace desktops for at least some of your users.

However, even on tablets the screen space is still a bit scarce. You may need to move less frequently used features off the main screens.

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That's a question on itself ;) So far I don't see tablets as mobile, but more like a less capable desktop. –  JefClaes Jan 23 '12 at 11:48

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