Tag Archive for: smartphones

Should All Sites Be Mobile-First?

It’s pretty much a given that websites need to be mobile-friendly. Should your site adopt a mobile-first design as well? For many, the answer is a firm Yes for a lot of good reasons.

All Sites Should Be Mobile-Friendly

It makes sense to invest in a solid mobile experience for customers. I can’t stress this enough: if your website and especially your e-commerce website isn’t easy to navigate or read on a smartphone, you’re turning off potential customers.

Mobile-First sites are specifically designed for mobile users.

Mobile-first design responds to customers who go online through a smartphone. Sites that sell consumer goods are best-suited for this. Clothing, jewelry, consumables, furniture, and home accessories sell well with lots of images and video.

They also don’t need a ton of written content because search engines recognize when a search comes from a desktop or mobile device and deliver results accordingly

Mobile-First Works for Desktop, Too

Smartphone shopping is growing

Google ranks mobile search separate from desktop search to accommodate all the mobile users. So how can a business satisfy desktop and mobile users?

Mobile-first functions pretty well on websites regardless of the device they’re viewed from. E-commerce software like WooCommerce and Shopify understand this and have simplified adding images, video, carousels, etc. to sites, with layouts that encourage brief product descriptions. Programmers (and writers!) can add + and – signs to expand or compress descriptions.

The decision comes down to understanding what devices your audience uses when they are on your site. Check your analytics for this.

What if the breakdown is more or less even for mobile and desktop visits?

Go for the mobile-first design.

You can always add content-heavier pages for a blog, customer testimonials, and the About page, which is still important for a lot of consumers – many like to know details like where you source materials or the company’s civic or public services.

According to TechJury, a company that tests and reviews software and devices, 86% of shoppers use at least two channels (presumably a desktop/laptop and smartphone) when they shop.

I read newspapers on my smartphone so often now that when I open one up on my laptop, I’m almost overwhelmed by how big everything seems. That’s because they’re using a mobile-first approach. The papers I read tend to be pretty high on detail, which is why  they still rank well on news searches.

Keep in mind that few people actually buy during their first visit to a site. They may come back a few times to read more or watch a product video to get more information. And of course, many return to see if prices have changed.

B2B Customers Use Their Own Smartphones at Work

People use their smartphones all the time, especially for search, and even when they’re at work.

Should your e-commerce site feature a mobile first design?

Would a mobile-first site design serve your customers better?

TechJury says fully half of all B2B queries last year were from a mobile device, and 55% of all page views were from mobile.

Why would workers search by phone even if they have access to a nice desktop or laptop?

Speaking for myself, it’s just easier to whip out the phone for a quick search. Right now I have about 10 tabs open, all of which have really important information I have to see. Why open another tab if I just need to do a one-off, search and the phone is right here?

Remember BYOD? Businesses stopped resisting it when they realized that allowing employees to use their own phones at work saved them money. In 2019, SpokePhone, a company that customizes communications for smartphones, asked why anyone would agree to use their personal phone at work.

They concluded people instinctively prefer using their own phones, even at work, and even if it means handing out their personal mobile number to customers. Moreover, company phones are just that – purchased by the company – and not personalized like one’s own phone.

Mobile’s Bounce Rate is Near Zero!

Getting back to TechJury’s intriguing compilation of mobile-vs-desktop statistics, I was interested to read that mobile-friendly websites recorded a bounce rate of 0.2% by the end of 2020. Just three years earlier, mobile bounce was 3% higher.

More than 60% of all internet search comes from mobile.

Overall, more than half of all internet searches have been conducted on mobile since 2017. Last year, they amount to 61%! That’s even with slower speeds than on desktop, which could be one reason why more time is spent on desktop – probably to complete actual work or school assignments.

Still, mobile nearly equals desktop in terms of all internet traffic.

In addition, for many people, their smartphone is their primary, if not only, access to the internet. The gig economy isn’t desktop/laptop friendly all around, especially for workers whose job is driving people or delivering goods.

Still not sure about your website? Read the full TechJury article. The compilation writer from Christo Petrov draws on respected sources including Statista, eMarketer, and SEMRush. It’s a compelling argument for anyone who’s selling a product online.

Rural Internet Access Remains Elusive

Rural Internet Access: Still Elusive for Many Americans

Internet access in rural America has improved but remains pretty rudimentary as far as speed goes.

This discourages a lot of rural Americans from investing in it at home. Those who are on a fixed income (especially elderly retired people) would rather get DirecTV and I can’t say I blame them.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is busy dismantling Net Neutrality even as nearly 40% of rural Americans still lack internet access according to its 2016 Broadband Report. You can read more about this in an article by Sharon Strover, an internet access researcher at the University of Texas – Austin published on The Conversation, an online journal supported by universities and foundations.

Rural Internet Speed Probably Won’t Improve

Writing about “reaching rural America,” Strover says the FCC is thinking of reducing its current minimum standards—25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads—in order to achieve a more robust statistic (at least on paper) for acceptable Internet access.

What about those ads claiming to provide fast downloads no matter where you live? Well, the equipment might be able to handle high speeds, but the actual infrastructure can’t because, Strover explains, providers don’t upgrade rural wiring as often as they do for urban areas. It’s a matter of economics: urban lines will reach thousands of customers inside a few square miles but it might need hundreds of miles of wiring to reach a few dozen rural customers.

Because the internet isn’t considered a utility, there’s no support for ISPs to extend more and better service to rural areas.

Most poignantly, Strover relates conversations with people who can’t even get DSL because they’re too far from the local cable company’s reach. They aren’t living off the grid—they have electricity, water, phone service—but since the internet isn’t considered a utility, they’re basically left out of the conversation. Satellite access, which is universal, is too expensive.

And guess what? The FCC is considering taking away one of their few options, the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. This broadcasts on a frequency range rural Internet providers might be able to use, but the FCC is thinking of giving it to the larger telecom companies.

Lack of Internet Access Reduces and Can Eliminate Opportunity

You don’t need me to tell you that lack of internet access compromises opportunities to find jobs, apply to college, and even turn in an impressive homework assignment.

Back in the pre-internet days, research meant going to the library. Luckier kids like me had encyclopedias at home to consult, at least for historical perspectives. The single library in the town where I grew up was open on nights and weekends, something that’s been curtailed in recent years across the nation as municipalities scramble to reduce costs. This obviously affects lower-income people who can’t afford internet access at all the most.

You need internet access to apply for jobs, particularly minimum wage jobs at national franchises from McDonald’s to Walmart. They’ve heavily invested in internet recruiting even if many of their target employees can’t readily go online.

The federal government has been trying to expand internet access through the FCC’s Connect America Fund. This was launched in 2011 to bring internet services to rural America. It’s had some success, but as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has noted, there’s still a lot of work to be done, particularly to deliver high-speed connections.

The Fund works by auctioning opportunities for ISPs to expand into rural areas, bolstered by a grant program that will distribute almost $1.5 billion over ten years. According to its auction overview page, 103 bidders were selected in 2018 to provide fixed broadband services on four tiers. The Minimum tier falls below the FCC’s current standard and accepts 10/1 speeds.

This leaves one to wonder if low-speed internet is even worth the reduced cost. If data can’t download, what’s a student or job applicant to do?

Many Rural Americans Get Internet Access At Libraries

Internet access available here.

Rural Americans turn to their libraries for internet access.

Of course, not everyone can get on the net during library hours. And most libraries limit the time spent on shared computers. Libraries in New York and Chicago, cities that both have leading universities and sizable low-income populations, began lending hotspot devices a few years ago that people could use at home to connect to the internet, usually through their own smartphones.

Strover and researchers Brian Whitacre of the University of Oklahoma and Colin Rhinesmith of Simmons University (Boston) have studied mobile hotspot loan programs operating in rural libraries in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Maine and in Boston. Their overall assessment found that the mobile hotspot device lending is useful to people who can’t afford, or can’t get the internet at home, but is certainly no substitute for regular, 24/7 internet access all the time.

Hotspot Device Loans: A Bit of Normalcy for People on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide

You’ve probably heard of the Digital Divide that describes what amounts to the haves versus the have-nots in terms of internet access and resources.

Across all the sites, researchers learned that hotspot device loans eased this divide just a little bit, for a tantalizingly short time:

  • High internet costs is a major reason rural residents sought out hotspot devices from libraries.
  • Many used hotspot devices with prepaid phones because they couldn’t afford a regular cellular plan.
  • People want internet access not because of so-called FOMO (fear of missing out) but because they understand it’s about KOMO, or knowledge of missing out.

Users who filled out surveys rated the devices a 9 out of 10 90% of the time. The tiny number who gave a rating of 5 or below turned out to have received devices that malfunctioned or had unsteady cellular connections at home. Parents commented on how helpful the devices were for their kid’s homework. This echoes Commissioner Rosenworcel’s comments about the “homework gap,” a phrase she coined to describe the barriers faced by students with insufficient or no internet access at home.

Low Internet Access Generally Indicates Low Income

Even though it’s not a hot topic among politicians, rural internet access is something our elected leaders should care about it.

Why? Because being on the wrong side of the digital divide aggravates conditions that were already there. Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide live in older homes that haven’t been wired for internet access, and often in communities that don’t have easy access to libraries. That’s one reason why the hotspot device loan program was so popular: they could take it home!

A 2017 study by the U.S. Department of Education‘s National Center for Education Statistics looked at data from 2010 and 2015 and found modest increases in internet access among children ages 3 -17. Still, the news wasn’t good for rural children, especially those from minority backgrounds. Many still had no internet access or dial-up in 2015:

  • 41% of Black students
  • 26% of Hispanic students
  • 13% of white students
  • 11% of Asian students

Overall, 13% of all rural children had no internet access at home in 2015. Among those living in remote areas, the average was 18%. Interestingly, 13% of urban children also had no internet access at home. Looking at children from families at or below the poverty level, the report found:

  • 30% had DSL or cable dial-up or no internet access at home
  • 49% had fixed broadband of any sort
  • 12% had mobile broadband, including mobile dial-up
  • 9% had “access without a subscription”

Low-Income People Live in Older Homes Passed Over by ISPs

Cost may not be the only factor blocking internet access: older buildings in urban or suburban neighborhoods that have not (yet) been gentrified aren’t wired for high speed. And like their rural counterparts, they probably aren’t putting up satellite dishes either due to cost or landlord restrictions.

Michael Martin of the Census Bureau looked at data from the Bureau’s five-year American Community Surve released in 2018. Although he focused on access to high-speed internet, he couldn’t help notice that communities not receiving these services had a high concentration of Black or Hispanic residents. Native American reservations also show low rates of broadband access.

Martin notes that counties with just one high-speed provider had fewer subscribers, possibly because the lack of competition kept prices too high for consumers. Or maybe the speeds weren’t high enough or consistent enough.

It’s hardly shocking that access to high-speed internet connections are the lowest where poverty is highest. Martin’s chart on page 28 of his report shows a light green sea of low access communities just where you’d expect them: in large swaths of rural America. West Virginia and Nevada, for example, really stick out from neighboring states. Eastern Arizona, where the Navajo Nation is located, is a swatch of white, meaning there is no or very low high-speed access.

School Districts Get Creative

As usual, it may be up to the school districts to figure it out.

The DoEd report highlighted a couple of creative ideas to deliver internet access that would work (assuming there’s funding) particularly well for rural students:

  • WiFi on school buses; many rural students spend an hour or more on school buses each day
  • Providing mobile hotspot devices for home use (similar to the library program)
  • Funding digital learning at home to obtain internet access (and avoid long bus rides)

Reinstating Net Neutrality could bring down costs, but not necessarily access. Redefining internet access as a utility would probably do a lot to narrow or even eliminate the digital divide. After all, “only” 600,000 American homes lack indoor plumbing!


Want to learn more about rural access to the internet and other key services? Check out this report from NPR’s Science Friday on Bridging the Digital Divide in Texas.

High Noon at the Nail Saloon

My son recently treated me to a pedicure at the neighborhood nail salon. I’m glad to report it was a calmer visit than an earlier one I blogged about when it first opened. The new owners and employees were alternately shocked and amused when I described what happened during my first visit.


My neighbors and I were so excited when a nail salon opened right around the corner from us.

Not long after they opened their doors, I went in to ask if they were interested in getting a website. The staff didn’t seem to understand, or maybe they weren’t interested so I didn’t employ my usual charm and persuasiveness. But I took a brochure.

The Nail Salon Owner Liked My Dogs

Some weeks later, a woman who I think is one of the owners stopped me as I was walking by with my dogs. She fell in love with them. Not enough to get her off her phone, but enough to shoot questions like “what kind of dogs are these?” “where did you get them?” and my all-time favorite, “how old are your puppies?”

Most impressive was that while petting them and making personal comments about Dino and Bella (“he’s kind of fat, isn’t he?”), she continued a lively conversation with someone in, I think, Vietnamese. I was impressed with this display of bilingual multitasking. I mean, I can’t even chew gum and write at the same time.

The Nail Salon Became the Nail Saloon

I didn’t actually go in for a pedicure until one afternoon just before Good Friday. I was planning to accompany my boyfriend and his family to church (after all, they come to my Seders) and I wanted to wear my cute Tommy Hilfiger chunky sandals. Finally, it was time to visit the nail salon.

It was more than half-full when I arrived. I was pleased the pedicure chairs were cushioned and comfortable and had all those kneading and rolling settings. An attendant brought me a cold bottle of water – a nice touch. I chose a pedicure spa treatment that included…well, you don’t need the details but let me tell you, that cheese grater thing took off about an inch of dead heel skin and my feet have never felt so good.

Enter the Nail Saloon Combatants

I had barely noticed a woman on her phone when I arrived. But about halfway through the treatment, I heard her loud and clear and trust me, I wasn’t listening for her. I had my earbuds in, listening to the classic rock station on my own phone. I may even have closed my eyes for a minute or two. Until I started to hear snippets about a problem at work, something about a lawsuit, and a lot of talk that really shouldn’t be out on the public airwaves:

  • “I will send you a memo with bullet points detailing everything that happened.”
  • “I understand they intend to sue. I have a defense.”
  • “That just isn’t true!”

And on and on. And louder and louder. I looked at the woman working on my pedicure, and she looked at me. She and her coworkers looked at each other.

Drawing of a mobile device with a slash through it - turn it off!

Turn it off dammit!

Finally, a tall slender woman who’d walked in maybe five minutes earlier got up and said, loudly, (I’m still wearing my earbuds) “I’m sorry, I just can’t relax in here with her shouting.” And off she stalked to the front, stopping at the cash register and adding “I will still pay for your time.”

At that point, Loud Woman finally ended her conversation. I returned to listening for my chance to win tickets to see Heart at the Celebrity Theater. Then the shouting started. Thin Woman yelled at Loud Woman for being selfish. “You’ve ruined everyone’s afternoon. No one here wanted to listen to your phone conversation. This is not the place to take calls like that.”

“I had to take that call. You have no idea why.”

“Oh yes I do. I think everyone here does. And no one wanted to hear your sorry-ass business problems.” She looked at the rest of us gaping at them. “How many people here think she’s behaved selfishly?”

We all raised our hands. The employees froze.

The Fight is On – Words and a Big Gulp Fly!

Loud Woman did look embarrassed for a moment as she turned to look back and saw everyone’s hands in the air. “If I behaved inappropriately I apologize.”

Thin Woman was on a roll. “You behaved like a real asshole. I came here – we all came here – to relax. No one can relax with you shouting your shit all over the place.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!”

“I can and I am – because you’re an asshole! What kind of example do you think you’re setting for your daughter over there?” (points to a girl of about 11 or 12 who was sitting quietly on the other side of the salon. I had noticed her texting through a manicure).

Now I know, and the owners should have known, that when you start dragging someone’s kids into an argument and comments on how you’re raising them, that’s fightin’ words. And sure enough, a fight broke out.

Thin Woman stepped around the cashier, who was trying to block her way, to face Loud Woman, whose feet were still in a tub. There was another exchange, a dare to repeat something that was duly repeated, and Thin Woman lunged toward Loud Woman.

By then, the one man working there raced over to physically separate them. A second later, the cashier – the same woman who had admired my dogs – jumped behind Thin Woman to pull her away. At the same time, Loud Woman threw her Big Gulp at Thin Woman, drenching her and the owners.

More shouting, and Thin Woman departed.

We customers all looked at each other. “Well,” someone said, “not what you see every day at a nail salon.”

Photo by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline

 

 

 

WiFi Calling To The Faraway Towns

My new-ish smartphone started prompting me a couple of weeks ago to install WiFi calling. Since we’re still getting acquainted, I’d lose the notice as soon as I tapped in my PIN and I’d get sidetracked by something else.

But then the prompt remained visible and I went through the brief process of installing WiFi calling, which I knew nothing about. In an age where nonsequiturs like “alternative facts” or “collusion isn’t a crime,” abound, I had reason to believe WiFi calling had nothing to do with my router. But, it turns out, WiFi calling (forgive me the Clash hit is now an earworm)  is exactly what it implies. Imagine that!

WiFi Calling Fixes The Problem of Shaky Cell Coverage

WiFi router

Now you want me to take your calls? / Pixabay – Wikimedialimages

I live in a weak cell phone zone. Every cell phone coverage map I’ve looked at except one shows my neighborhood to be in a weak zone. I have no reason to believe the supposed standout is any better than the others and anyway, I don’t like the company.

As a result, I’ve dropped many calls in my time. Since I use a smartphone for my business, this really was a problem.  I figured WiFi calling was worth a try. My new smartphone, which is also on a new network for me, seems to be better about hanging on to calls, even when I’m on the sketchy north side of my house.

WiFi calling is supposed to be faster than 4G and can connect in more places, which so far seems to have fixed my problem with dropped calls. I’ve had uninterrupted phone conversations in different parts of the house. It didn’t seem to cause any interference with the other connected devices in our home, either. To be honest, they don’t gobble much data. As far as I know, no one here is doing heavy-duty gaming or running a cryptocurrency operation.

What Took Me So Long to Get WiFi Calling?

So why was I suddenly getting messages to encourage me to connect to WiFi calling? And why didn’t I have it sooner?

To answer that first question, WiFi calling isn’t pre-set on smartphones even though those manufactured since 2016 can “seamlessly switch between 4G and WiFi” according to one FAQ. To answer the second question, most Android phones manufactured before 2016 didn’t have WiFi calling capability, including my older phone. (It became available on the iPhone 5c.) Perhaps it took a few months for my provider to realize I  hadn’t taken this step, or analyzed my bill and saw I was using their weak cell towers.

WiFi Calling Is Free! (For Now)

It occurred to me a few days after I installed WiFi calling that this could be one way for sneaky Internet service providers (ISPs) or mobile providers to charge for better services.

Much to my surprise, WiFi calling is free when used within the US, at least for now. It will not count toward minutes if you aren’t on an unlimited calling plan and apparently it won’t count against your data usage either since it relies on access to WiFi networks. Keep in mind, though, that Net Neutrality is officially dead. I’m not optimistic that ISPs won’t figure out a way to measure the data used for WiFi calling and charge accordingly. It shouldn’t be long before they take advantage of the so-called “light touch” regulation the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now embraces.

Am I paranoid? Well, arguably yes but I do rely heavily on the Internet for my freelance work. I conduct a lot of research and a good chunk of my writing lives on the Google Drive and Dropbox.

ISPs Love WiFi Connections

I had, of course, set my phone to work with my WiFi for Internet access. I don’t recall seeing a prompt to set up WiFi calling during this process which strikes me as odd.

ISPs want more devices connected to them and have created whole-home connection services, or WiFi extenders, for an extra charge. Comcast recently introduced the Xfinity xFi Pods, small pods you plug into an outlet and connect to Comcast’s xFi Wireless Gateway or xFi Advanced Gateway. Everything is set up using a mobile app that pairs the Pods with a router compatible with the whole shebang. You can also monitor performance through the app. Pods come in six-packs and three-packs costing $199 and $119, plus a monthly charge.

Cox, the major ISP where I live, has the Panoramic 2-in-1 WiFi Modem that looks like a smart speaker. It’s not explicitly calling it an extender but it does advertise a lot of the same benefits: whole-house coverage including normally dead areas “for all your devices” and a Cox Connect app. The WiFi modem has 24 channels and is available with the $60.99 Internet service, plus $9.99 monthly modem rental. The modem itself is rental only and includes Cox servicing and replacement.

Not that I have a choice, but the Cox package is more appealing to me than the Comcast one.

Perhaps the ISPs are colluding coordinating efforts with wireless phone providers to add smartphones to their services. There is definitely an advantage to having higher speed Internet than the minimum basic or starter packages. And if consumers are more satisfied with their wireless providers, they’re less likely to be tempted away to another network. I can see the mutually beneficial arrangement.

More WiFi Calling Benefits

As I’ve noted, WiFi calling is free throughout the US including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. And some wireless providers offer it free overseas in countries where the service is available, but you will still pay for international rates if you are placing the call unless, as I learned this summer, you call a US number that happens to be outside the US. In that case, the charge goes to the party that picked up the call.

You can, of course, get around this by using your Skype app or WhatsApp.

You can use WiFi calling when your phone is in Airplane mode. I do not know if this will get you kicked off an actual airplane; check with that carrier.

Have the engines stopped running?