Tag Archives: mobile usability
Hotel booking sites are traditionally the usability black hole of the mobile web. Finding and booking a hotel at the last minute is something every traveler occasionally has to do. The mobile web seems like an ideal way to do this, yet the major booking sites and hotel chains do not seem to have much interest in capturing this enormous opportunity. Most mobile hotel sites appear to be thrown together with no real usability testing or understanding of the unique nature of mobile based data entry.
I was pleasantly surprised last month by KeyToss' well done front end for Hotels.com. It's relatively easy to use and works on virtually any phone.
When I heard that Hyatt and Usablenet have launched a new mobile site for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts I was hoping that it would continue the trend toward better hotel sites.
Hyatt got some things right but there is still a lot more friction than necessary in the booking process.
Mobile browsers visiting Hyatt.com should be automatically redirected to the new mobile site. If that doesn't work or you want to try it with your desktop browser, the direct URL is mobile.usablenet.com/mt/www.hyatt.com/
There are some nice features on the site. A neat thing I haven't seen before on a mobile hotel site is the ability to check in or out online. You can also search for, view and cancel existing reservations. Both these functions are well designed and require a minimum of data entry, just your reservation number and name. Members of Hyatt's Gold Passport loyalty program can check their account details and reward points balance. It's even possible to enroll in Gold Passport on the mobile site.
To me the most important feature of a mobile hotel site is the ability to find and book a hotel room on the road quickly and with a minimum of hassle. The Hyatt site gets the job done but there are some rough spots in the process.
The initial search is by location only. A single free-form search box handles city names and abbreviations, airport codes and landmarks so "San Francisco", "NYC", "Paris", "CDG", "Fisherman's Wharf" and "Beijing" all work. However, the site doesn't seem to understand postal codes, full street addresses or a combination of a landmark and city like "Central Park, NYC".
The search defaults to all Hyatt owned properties (Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Place, Summerfield Suites, Hyatt Vacation Club and Andaz) but there is a dropdown allowing you to restrict the search to any single family of hotels.
The results of a search are all the hotels within 50 miles of the specified location listed in order of distance. Because the initial search form doesn't allow specifying dates, the list may include hotels which have no vacancies. It's necessary to click a "Check Rates and Availability" button under each individual hotel listing to see if that property has a vacancy. To Hyatt's credit, the site does remember the dates you entered on the first hotel so that you don't have to reenter them for each one. But a better design would be to allow dates to be entered on the initial search form along with the location. That way the results could include only hotels with availability as well as make it possible to include the price of the least expensive available room in the initial listing.
Booking a room is typically the most problem ridden area on hotel sites. The root of the problem is the requirement of hotels (at least in the U.S.) for full credit card information at time of booking, which in turn means completing an endless form. The Hyatt site is no exception with no less than ten fields required to make a reservation. There doesn't seem to be any way to store credit card details with Hyatt for future use. Even Gold Passport members don't appear to get a break here. Surely the Hyatt already has their loyalty club member's information on file. Why not let them make a reservation with just their Gold Passport number and password?
I have to wonder why credit card companies haven't implemented a mobile PIN system like PayPal and Google Checkout use. It's so much easier to make purchases with PayPal or Checkout on mobile sites with just your phone number and a PIN. For that matter, why don't hotels accept PayPal?
Unless you have a QWERTY phone, I don't think it's practical to book a room online with the Hyatt mobile site. Thankfully, Hyatt provides click to call local numbers for each hotel. The sensible thing to do is to use the site to check availability and prices and then call the hotel to complete the reservation. I'm not sure if the online prices will be honored when making a phone reservation, however.
The Hyatt site has pages as large as 89 KB of text and images. This is too big to load on many embedded feature phone browsers. This means that the site will not work on over half the web enabled phones in use today. This is sort of the mobile equivalent of IE-only desktop sites. There's really no reason a site of this type can't work on all phones. Surely Hyatt has the resources to build a site that uses browser detection and adaptation to limit page and image sizes to device capabilities. It reflects badly on the brand when users go to Hyatt.com with their phone and then, often after spending some time entering data, receive an error because the page is too large.
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 5 "Good"
Mobile Link: hyatt.com
ezmogo is a mobile web service that lets you search for discount coupons and special offers on services, entertainment, retail stores, restaurants, and more in the U.S. Similar sites include Xtra! Coupons and PocketDeal in the U.S. and ActiveDeals for India.
There are two ways to find coupons with ezmogo. You can browse through categories of offerings for your location or you can enter a "Quick Code" found on an ad, flyer or poster. To redeem a coupon just show it displayed on your phone screen at the point of sale. You don't have to register to use ezmogo but registered users can save coupons for quick access and forward them to friends by text message. Registering requires giving your mobile number to ezmogo.
I think mobile coupons are a viable business model but ezmogo is currently not very useful due to a combination of lack of inventory and user interface limitations. Without a quick code using this site is an exercise in frustration. After setting my location to downtown San Francisco, I clicked of each of the 29 shopping categories and sub categories only to be greeted by "there are currently no ads available in your location in this search category" for each one. Categories need to be hidden if they are empty to avoid leading users "down the garden path" to disappointment.
Filed in: Wap Review Directory - Shopping
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 3 "Fair"
Mobile Link: ezmogo.mobi
Over at VoIP Survivor, Tsahi Levent-Levi has just posted "The Carnival is Back in Town (Carnival of the Mobilists #158)". The latest Carnival is full of great posts on the mobile experience and ecosystem. Regardless of which areas of mobile interest you; hardware, software, marketing, corporate strategy, user experience, development or security; I think you will find something of value in this Carnival.
Thank you, Tsahi for including my "Transcoders and HTTPS" piece. There is also a great post by Tom Godber's on the same issue in this Carnival. Tom works in the mobile security field and provides a very readable explanation of how https works and the risks posed by allowing transcoders to intercept secure sessions. This is a subject that needs to be more widely discussed. Robust end-to-end security is essential to the success of web based mobile financial services.
Congratulations to Martin Sauter for winning Post of the Week honors for his piece on how he uses the WiFi capabilities of modern Smartphones.
G-SNAP! is a new social network based around live updates from events. Users create "SnapCasts" which are channels dedicated to a particular a sporting event, concert, conference or live news event.
The person who created the SnapCast posts updates in the form of text, photos and videos. SnapCasts are public, anyone can view a SnapCast and any registered G-SNAP! user can add comments to it. SnapCasts remind me of Twittter hashtags but with multimedia integration. They also have two features especially relevant to live event reporting, Snapshots and the Clock. The Snapshot is like a status message. It appears at the top of the SnapCast and is intended to be used for important information like the current score of a game or the name of who is currently speaking at a conference. The clock is a game clock, it can be started and stopped by the user who created the SnapCast. Each SnapCast has it's own short url. For example, the Aviation Nation airshow SnapCast is at gsnap.com/318 and the NCAA national championship football game is gsnap.com/391.
On the PC, G-SNAP! has an Ajax interface based around Yahoo's YUI library. It features separate scrolling lists for updates and comments with the static Snapshot and Clock at the top. The mobile version of gSnap is a simpler "one size fits all phones" non scrolling design. Mobile browsers are automatically redirected to it. There doesn't seem to be any way to view the mobile site on a PC or the PC site on a phone unfortunately. SnapCasts on mobile are text only with links to images and videos.
The mobile G-SNAP! site lets you search for, view and comment on SnapCasts or create your own. Text updates and comments can be entered in the browser but images and videos must be uploaded by email.
Updates and comments are aggressively paginated six to a page on G-SNAP! Mobile. The pagination and lack of images keeps page size down to a mere 9 KB so G-SNAP! should work on even the most basic phones. However, users of more advanced devices will undoubtedly wish for in-line images and more updates and comments per page. Given the small page size which seems optimized for basic phones and slow networks, I'm a little surprised that the image links in G-SNAP! Mobile go to 515 px wide images averaging 40 KB. This is too large for many phones. The desktop version of G-SNAP! uses 144 px wide in-line thumbnails. If the mobile version linked to the smaller thumbnail images,with perhaps an option to "view full size image", it would be possible to view the images on almost all handsets. Videos are reformatted to 176x144 px and average around 400 KB. The size and resolution is compatible with most video capable phones although G-SNAP! is using an obscure CDMA audio codec called QCLEP. My N95-3 can play the SnapCast videos but not the audio portion.
It's good to see that mobile support is a part of G-SNAP! from the start. I'd like to see G-SNAP! enhance the mobile side of the service with better image handling, variable pagination based on device capabilites and direct upload of images and videos using browse for file.
G-SNAP! is a fairly original concept and it seems to be getting some traction with about 400 SnapCasts posted so far including some mobile events like an interview with Google's Rich Miner from around the time when the G1 was launched and a couple of CES presentations. Source: George Drapeau's Weblog
Ratings: Content: Usability:
Ready.mobi Score: 4 "Good"
Mobile Link: gsnap.com