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I've been noticing a trend when using my phone for music at work. Sites like Bandcamp have an excellent mobile site that is simple and intuitive. However, once I find a cool group on Bandcamp I end up switching to Spotify. As nice as the mobile website is, it still takes a long time to switch between albums or artist pages. 3G is no speed demon but it's where the mobile web is right now and will be for the next year or two.

My question: is a semi-confusing OS app (i.e. Spotify) that is snappy and responsive better than a very usable mobile website? That is to say, is speed heads and tails more important than any other mobile application usability factor?

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LinkedIn stated explicitly (… ) that they prioritize speed over ease of use. – Brian Dec 17 '12 at 15:27
up vote 12 down vote accepted

There is no most important factor in mobile applications, as each application has to make different tradeoffs in order do develop the best UX.

It is however one of the more critical factors as it directly impacts almost every application. Other factors that may be more important are: aesthetics; correctness; simplicity; and similarity to known patterns.

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In short, no.

Speed is important, and is part of making a mobile app usable, but if a user can't figure out how perform their desired task it doesn't matter how fast the app is.

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I agree with John and Ben, but I would like to expand a bit their answers with a definition of usability given in the book Interaction design, by Rogers, Sharp, and Preece.

Goals of usability:

  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency (speed is related to it)
  • Safety
  • Utility
  • Learnability
  • Memorability

I think that the success of a mobile app or any other interactive product is the result of satisfying all these goals.

EDIT: As @greenforest suggests, I should add to the list user experience goals that make an interactive system enjoyable, surprising, entertaining, aesthetically pleasing, etc.

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Nice, but I miss 'Joy of use'. Don't want to use it if it looks ugly or is no fun at all. – greenforest Dec 15 '12 at 13:21

I don't think the discussion about the most critical factor is very helpful, as long as we realize it's critical.

After that, understanding that we are talking about users' experience, there are several ways and tricks to make the experience better, even thought the technology is not blazing yet.

For instance, the splash screen could be a screen shot of the actual application, giving the impression that the app is up, and would be running in a second ("I can just see it behind the rotating thing!"). Another example is fetching results in a stream, not waiting for all the results to download. This satisfies the wait a lot faster.

The principles of time perception in general apply in the mobile with no difference.

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In my opinion speed plays an important role.

My observation is that users share a view that mobiles are slow in general (CPU + Network) and having a snappy app usually impresses a user.

I feel users are little unforgiving towards slow apps unless you solve something really great. Time spend on mobile is very less, users expect to get things done faster.

Making your app faster or feel faster are both different things. You can make it feel faster by making it more responsive & using background process. Believe in hacks. Make sure you give highest priority to user's actions.

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Performance and Usability goes hand in hand. In my opinion, it will be unwise to say "Performance Only" over Usability. What good is a site, if it takes >2 minutes to simply understand "How to get a job done?". Performance compliments usability.

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