Four years ago, for the Web Globalization Report Card, I began noting (and rewarding) those websites that supported mobile devices. Even then one could easily see the virtual grounds shifting in favor of mobile devices. But at the time, only about 20% of the websites studied supported mobile devices.
In this year’s Report Card, the majority of websites are now mobile friendly. Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed a flurry of newly responsive web designs from a diverse range of companies including Philips, Merck, VMware and Pepsi.
Even Apple now supports a responsive website. Shown below are before and after screen grabs:
If your company hasn’t yet made the leap to mobile, now is the time to accelerate your plans — unless you don’t care much for your search ranking.
Google has made it abundantly clear that websites that do not support mobile devices are going to suffer.
Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
All languages. All regions. This makes great sense given that markets like China and Indonesia are overwhelmingly experiencing the Internet via mobile devices.
Google wants to remain relevant to mobile users which means your website needs to remain relevant to Google.
Which means, ultimately, remaining relevant to your web users. Particularly if you plan to succeed globally.
So I just spent an hour upgrading my iPhone to iOS 7.
My first thought was: Boy, these icons are ugly.
And there’s this strange mix of text-only buttons and visual buttons. Some of the apps feel like a step backwards, like Calendar. It all feels a bit rushed. Like the folks at top were so eager to launch something “new” that they didn’t give enough thought to why they were making some of the changes they made.
But this post isn’t about what I think about the design. I’m stuck with it, for now at least.
This post is about what global improvements Apple has made to iOS 7.
And there are a few positives to highlight.
Let’s start with the welcome screen when you see on first use. In iOS 6, only the swipe screen iterated between languages. In iOS 7, the languages are now front and center, which is nice to see. This austere welcome page conveys the enthusiasm that Apple has for welcoming users from around the world. And I think it’s cool to highlight the supported languages, even if most users will only ever use one language.
As an aside, you don’t see any flags here do you? No flags at all in the operating system, which contrasts with the Apple website. It’s just a matter of time before Apple abandons flags on its website as well (or so I’ve long hoped!).
I also want to highlight the new keyboard input and dictionary support for Tamil.
Apple supports two types of Tamil inputs — Tamil99, which is the officially approved input keyboard, (shown above) and an Anjal keyboard, which provides a phonetic input.
Finally, here are a few additional improvements for China, which is now Apple’s second-largest market.
Tencent Weibo social network integration.
Chinese-English bilingual dictionary.
Improved Chinese input including T9 keyboard for pinyin; handwriting recognition for multiple Chinese characters.
Overall, there’s nothing truly groundbreaking here, just slow and steady improvements.
Apple provides a subtle, but global, welcome to new users of iOS 6.
I just downloaded the OS today and captured a few screens to illustrate below:
The only thing that changes is the language of the “slide to set up” message.
It could be argued that the text is largely meaningless since most people will figure out how to use that slider thingie on their own. But that’s why the iterating languages are a nice fit. The message conveyed here is not just that of “slide to set up” but also that of a global company welcoming its customers from around the world.
Note how the length of the text string changes based on the language — a great example of how you need to build flexibility into your interface to make it truly world ready.
Here’s a new article I’ve written for UX Magazine on the importance of aligning global and mobile strategies. Too often, companies develop mobile apps and mobile websites without considering localization requirements.
Here are two previous articles I’ve written for UX Magazine:
When it comes to tablets, Apple is far and away the leader.
But later this year Microsoft is expected to unveil its Windows 8 tablet and, in doing so, will quickly take the lead.
In languages, that is.
That’s right. Microsoft recently announced that Windows 8 will support a whopping 105 languages (and I’m assuming this includes the new Metro interface).
This is impressive, particularly when you compare it against Apple iOS, which supports a paltry 34 languages. (Android 4.0 is at 57 languages.)
We are getting into slightly murky waters when we compare Windows 8 with iOS, because Windows 8 is for both PCs and mobile devices; Apple’s iOS is strictly for phones and tablets. But since phones and tablets are where the growth is globally, Microsoft’s investment in languages is smart and Apple’s relative frugality is short-sighted.
I’ll be curious to see how Apple responds with its updated OS later this year. And not just with its OS.
By post-PC world, I’m referring to a world in which the website adapts not only to the device (PC, tablet, smartphone) but also to the user. That is, it’s not enough to adapt to an iPad, but you also need to consider what tasks that user needs to accomplish with that iPad. Location matters. Context matters. And, yes, language and culture certainly matter (though these two details have so far gone overlooked by many mobile websites and apps).
But first let me back up two years.
When the iPad first came out, one of the main selling points was how easy it made browsing the web — assuming that website didn’t include any Flash elements.
At the time it seemed that companies needed only to get rid of Flash to be fully accessible to the growing number of iPad users. (Amazingly, more than a third of the websites reviewed in the 2012 Report Card still use Flash).
I want to stress here that Flash isn’t just an Apple limitation; the coming tablets from Microsoft will also be devoid of any native support for Flash. But Flash is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as tablets are concerned.
This post-PC world is about completely rethinking the “web” experience. And I include apps here, because apps are often pulling the same data as a website, but doing so through an interface (and code base) that takes full advantage of the features of that mobile operating system (like caching data, supplying the user’s location, saving user preferences, enabling the phone, camera, etc.) This is all very exciting — but also very complicated. And chaotic if you’re in charge of managing all of these moving parts.
Consider Hotels.com, which was ranked #5 in this year’s report. The company currently supports (in 38 languages):
A website specifically for the PC
An website for smartphones
A mobile app for smartphones
A mobile app specifically for the iPad
In just a few years, companies have gone from supporting a PC website and, maybe, supporting a mobile website that very few people ever used — to supporting a diverse range of websites and apps.
Where does web globalization fit into all of this?
Currently, not very well. That is, many of the companies studied in this report may support 20 or more languages on their PC sites but only one or two languages on their mobile apps or websites. And global navigation is not always well thought out. Users might have to dig to find localized websites or content.
These are early days still.
And that’s where the Report Card fits in. Because the companies that merge global requirements with their mobile requirements are going to be far better off in the long run. “World readiness” will need to be given the same priority as “mobile readiness.”
In this year’s report, I added three key metrics to the methodology, metrics that I believe will become requirements in the years ahead:
1. Support language parity across PC and mobile. Right now, very few companies maintain the same linguistic experience across PCs and mobile devices. The language leader in iPhone mobile apps is Google, with support for 42 languages via its search app. And this is the leader. Granted, the iPhone operating system isn’t itself exactly a language leader at 33 languages — compared with Android (4.0) at 57. But few companies have gotten close to testing these language limits.
Most companies are happy to offer mobile apps that support around 10 languages or fewer — even though their PC websites support 20 or more languages. Mobile should receive the same degree of language support as PC. Given mobile vs. PC usage in some countries, one could argue that your language budget is better served on the mobile side before the PC side (a subject for a later post).
2. Keep it lightweight. Just because a web user has a broadband connection at home doesn’t mean that his or her iPad will have a broadband connection in, say, an airport. Despite the many promises of wireless carriers, wireless broadband is just not a reality for most people. It’s time for companies to put strict weight limits in place for their websites to ensure that users on mobile devices have a positive experience. This is one of the easiest wins on the web these days and I’m still surprised how many companies overlook it. Speed was one of the main reasons Google became the dominant search provider. And speed still is very much a way to stand apart from your competition, not just in one country but in any country.
3. Get rid of Flash. I don’t hate Flash, but I’m a pragmatist. It’s challenging enough for web teams to manage content across so many devices let alone to worry about also supporting Flash vs. non-Flash sites. By eliminating Flash, you free up resources to focus on mobile devices and user scenarios. And here’s one bonus reason for eliminating Flash — you free up your content to be self-translated by the user via Google Translate or Bing Translate.
Nike, which is included in this report, has been steadily migrating away from Flash. It still uses so much Flash on its PC site that it had to create a separate website for the iPad.
In my experience, the Nike iPad website offers a superior experience than the PC site. The site is more lightweight and the content more focused. Tablets force a “less is more” approach to design, which in my experience is usually a better experience.
It’s a great time to take chances
All companies are well aware of the opportunities that mobile offers. But only a few companies are leading. Hotels.com is certainly one of the leaders. Facebook and Google are there as well. To be a leader these days is to take chances. Though some standards have emerged, there really is no “one” way to design a website for the iPad or a smartphone. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet itself. The post-PC era is going to give birth to new standards and new leaders.
NOTE: Here are some post-PC numbers. And recent stats that show mobile Internet usage doubling over the past year to 8.5% (excluding tablets).
Language negotiation is the process of detecting the language setting of a web browser and responding with the matching language, if available. Companies such as Google and Facebook have used language negotiation with great success over the years.
In the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card, just 12% of the 250 web sites studied support language negotiation. While this is an increase from the previous year it is still too low.
As more and more people surf the web using mobile devices, the “business case” for supporting language negotiation grows more acute. After all, do you really want your users to fumble over a “select language” pull down menu on their mobile devices? Why not just give these users the language they want and save them time and create a better user experience.
To demonstrate, I’ve created a short video in which I use the iPhone to visit four web sites: Google, Xbox, Nike, and Apple. You may be surprised by which of these companies does not support language negotiation.