SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

The Real Problem With Mobile WiFi: Terrible UX

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 14, 2011

No WiFiStacey Higginbotham with GigaOm wonders why WiFi doesn’t relieve some of the congestion on the mobile networks.

Apparently an AT&T executive says it’s like this:

The executive noted that AT&T didn’t see Wi-Fi helping the nation’s No. 2 carrier offset congestion because in most cases people don’t use Wi-Fi unless they are sitting still in a hot-spot. And apparently, there are plenty of people still wandering around watching YouTube videos.

That’s not the problem.  I often turn off WiFi on my iPhone and iPad even when I am sitting perfectly still when I’m out and about.  There might be a great WiFi nearby, but I never know it.  Why?

Because WiFi has terrible UX.  Let me count the ways:

–  It takes too long to try a connection and get it going.

–  Often, all the available connections are secured.  Don’t even get me started about WEP and similar security.  I won’t use it at all unless I’m pitching on Sand Hill which has the world’s worst cell connections and often no other way to get out to the net.  Life’s too short for the UX to set up a new secure WiFi connection you’ve never seen before.  FWIW, iOS makes this somewhat less painful than Windows.  Microsoft, you really should fix that.

–  Often, connections that are apparently unsecured require interaction.  You have to login, even when you didn’t think you would.  Or, you have to agree to some idiot lawyer’s terms and conditions.

–  You have no idea how secure the connection is.  Sure, mobile wireless isn’t especially secure either, but I’ll bet there is more FUD around WiFi unsecurity.  Its reputation is for being unsecure.

–  The connection drops more times than AT&T if you’re at a public HotSpot.  I was a Starbucks just the other day and it would alternate between being 100% great and 0% dropped connection.   Every time it dropped, I had to accept the terms and conditions again.  Guess how many times I let that happen before I turned it off?

–  Mobile browsers stink at dealing with WiFi.  My iOS devices act like they fell in a black hole if I turn on WiFi or there is a hiccup in the middle of refreshing a page.  If the status changes at all, best thing to do is a complete page refresh.  That’s not always a happy thing.

–  Pet peeve:  You’re at some luxury hotel, resort, or other expensive location.  These bozos want to charge you an arm and a leg for a little Internet connection.  Are they frickin’ kidding me?   That is so 20 years out of date and I think less of whatever business tries this stunt every time I see it.  Connectivity is cheap, so quit jacking me around about it if you want my business.  It’s your table stakes to get me to stay.

My bottom line after trying and trying WiFi?  Unless my 3G connection is terrible or AppStore makes me go to WiFi, I just leave WiFi turned off.  It’s too much trouble.  The User Experience is terrible.

The term “WiFi” was first used commercially 20 years ago.  Isn’t it about time it worked a little better?

A little cooperation between the WiFi devices and the mobile OS makers would go a long way:

–  Get the hot spot and browsers/OS’s working together to send everything back and forth https.  Even if the web site doesn’t support it, the WiFi router can take it back to http once it hits the wire, but leave it secure over the airwaves.

–  Figure out how to make a single box deliver both a secure and open hot spot so all the paranoid peeps can feel safe and I can connect to their hot spot.

–  Introduce a standard set of “hold harmless” terms and conditions that you can accept once on the device and then handshake everywhere you find a hot spot to let it know it doesn’t need to ask again.  If they want more restrictive T’s and C’s, screw ’em, I’m not using that hot spot.

–  Browsers have to get smarter and smoother about dealing with interruptions and reconnections so they don’t lose their place or go away interminably.

–  Rebuild all the protocols to time out fast–5 seconds maximum.  Look, if its taken a blinkin’ computer 30 seconds to figure out whether the connection is alive you need to assume, “It’s dead Jim.”  30 seconds is 20 years or more out of date with modern levels of performance.  If it takes me that long just to connect, how happy do you think I will be with the BS I get once connected?

–  Mobile browsers should start remembering whether I was happy or not with a connection and make sure the OS knows.  Give me a button to rate the connection.  Choose the connections I like and ignore the connections I hate.  Let me rate my 3G while I’m at it.  Or, let the browser monitor the connection so there is an automatic rating–but make sure I can override it easily.

Businesses, think about your customer’s online connectivity as an integral part of your atmosphere and style.  It’s a connected world, some parts more than others.  If you’re serving lattes, quiche, or expensive wine, you come off like a 50’s diner when your Internet connection stinks.

3 Responses to “The Real Problem With Mobile WiFi: Terrible UX”

  1. […] Mobile browsers stink at dealing with WiFi. My iOS devices act like they fell in a black hole if I turn on WiFi or there is a hiccup in the middle of refreshing a page. If the status changes at all, best thing to do is a complete page … Read more: The Real Problem With Mobile WiFi: Terrible UX « SmoothSpan Blog […]

  2. […] and WiFi on my iPad, I really like having the 3G and frequently turn WiFi off.  I have found it is a real hassle connecting to Hot Spots compared to the ease of […]

  3. […] and WiFi on my iPad, I really like having the 3G and frequently turn WiFi off.  I have found it is a real hassle connecting to Hot Spots compared to the ease of […]

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