Today’s WAP sites fall short by failing to recognize mobile users’ unique needs. However, before overhauling their mobile Internet sites, firms must master the new competency of “Microdesign,” built on effortless navigation and concise content. This is the central argument of a new Report by Forrester Research B.V. (Nasdaq: FORR).

To understand how today’s WAP sites serve today’s mobile Internet users, Forrester conducted in-depth user experience reviews of 50 WAP sites during the first three weeks of October this year. Of the 50 sites tested, none scored a passing grade, and the average site failed on more than half of our criteria.

“Today’s WAP sites fail for one central reason: firms are force-fitting existing Web content onto a tiny screen without considering the unique needs of mobile users,” commented Carsten Schmidt, associate analyst at Forrester. “Because of the mobile Net’s unique attributes, Web experience doesn’t yield WAP success, and the lessons learned from years of Web site design fail to apply to mobile devices. Instead, companies must unlearn the Web’s rules and master a new competency that Forrester calls Microdesign.”

Microdesign rests on three principles — obvious navigation, concise content, and automated integration with other channels. Users must be able to tap a site’s value immediately without learning a navigation scheme. Content must be optimized for small screens and only users who demand more depth should see it. And mobile offerings must synchronize with other channels, like the Web and iDTV, invisibly and immediately. Forrester believes that by failing to address Microdesign, firms risk brand erosion, decreased traffic in other channels, lost revenues, and ultimately, lost customers.

“Microdesign requires more than a new set of best practices,” Schmidt added. “Mobile customers demand a shift away from site designers and success metrics, toward an approach that opposes the PC-based Web. To accommodate small mobile displays — four to five short lines plus one header — navigation and content must be continuously interwoven, and access to that content must be immediate, fluid, and precise.”

As PC and iDTV use grows, mobile Internet sites must work with other channels. WAP sites must be built on the same business rules and data as other electronic channels. Firms must offer Web and iDTV sites that personalize their mobile Internet experiences, providing users with names and passwords, and apply preferences from other channels to mobile visitors on their first visit.

“The Web challenged companies to offer richness and interactivity compared with print material, and mobile devices challenge firms to create smaller and simpler content available at anytime,” Schmidt concluded. “Mobile sites must help users get something done quickly in as few pages as possible. To serve time-starved users effectively, WAP sites must become available at any relevant moment with content edited to a minimum length. So while the mobile Internet won’t capture big direct revenues — only €5 billion in retail sales in 2005 — it will influence up to 40 times as much indirectly, which makes the application of Microdesign imperative.”

Survey Methodology
The WAP sites surveyed were balanced across 11 countries and 10 categories. Forrester relied on the Nokia 7110 phone for basic testing but also used the Ericsson R380 and the Siemens S35 to test browser compatibility. For each site category, Forrester identified three key tasks — such as checking a stock price for financial sites or posting a bid for auctions. As we tried to complete these tasks at each site, we graded 16 criteria on a four-point scale: 2 (exemplary pass), 1 (pass), -1 (failure), or -2 (critical failure).