Mobile

Collaboration tools are like jeans: One size does NOT fit all

Editor’s note: Keynote Systems’ Startup Shootout Index provides some insight into the three-screen challenge now facing anyone with a web presence. We’ll be bringing you a fresh set of data from Keynote every month. Check out previous Startup Shootout results.

For online businesses, executing a mobile strategy is still an act of experimentation. Unlike the desktop web, the ingredients that make a recipe for mobile success are being tweaked by companies as large and small alike.

When it comes to mobile strategies, this month’s Startup Shootout Collaboration index provides a wide range of examples. Some companies do not provide mobile-optimized (“m.”) sites for their services on mobile devices. One company even goes so far as to refuse an iPhone user to browse its website. However, it is notable that the three leaders in performance across three screens (Dropbox, Box, YouSendIt), are also the three leaders in the collaboration space itself. Dropbox and Box.net appear to be the most mobile-friendly. Coincidence? Let’s see.

When looking at the index, we noticed that startups leverage mobile in ways that directly benefit the interest of their user strategy. Since collaboration tools are generally used as productivity applications, enabling a positive user experience across 3 screens (desktop, smartphone and tablet) can be critical, especially for enterprise use that may include remote workers.

Here’s how the hottest startups in collaboration are managing the mobile aspect of their online experience:

Dropbox

The clear market share leader in the collaboration category keeps all their sites simple and clean. From the mobile browser, visitors are directly pointed towards the login and then to download their files. Dropbox has pruned all unnecessary objects and keeps the interface fast and simple across all 3 screens. Dropbox maintains the fastest average speed across the desktop, smartphone and tablet screens at 9.84 seconds.

Box.net

As another top contender, Box.net also does a great job when optimizing for its mobile users. It’s clear that Box.net wants mobile users to be able to access files and collaborate with others not only while at the desktop but on-the-go. Box.net asks mobile users if they would like to download their iOS app, but also gives them the option to continue to a mobile website. As a result, Box.net performs well across each of the 3 screens, with only slightly slower performance than Dropbox.

YouSendIt

YouSendIt does not offer their users a mobile optimized site. Instead, they prompt the user to download their iOS app (like Box.net) or continue on the full (desktop) website. While this is not optimal, it does give both new users and existing customers reasonable options for either learning about the service or interacting with it directly.

The other collaboration companies haven’t quite figured out the three screen divide as well as the top competitors. One example is Springpad whose mobile interface leaves the user experience with much to be desired and is frankly a bit confusing.

Springpad.com

It looks like Springpad has developed a site for its iPhone users and tries to push those users seeking www.springpad.com directly to Springpad’s iOS application using the “springpad://” command (as seen below).

If you have installed Springpad app on your iPhone, it will automatically open up the application. But this mobile strategy doesn’t work for new visitors to Springpad, since shortly after the site times out. It seems that Springpad’s mobile strategy is to push users to leverage its application rather than use the service through mobile web. A poor assumption for Springpad is to assume that when users attempt to access the site through Safari, they want to use the app. This approach denies mobile users access to a mobile web experience they may desire.

Directly opening a mobile app when browsing a web page sometimes makes sense in the context of certain tasks. But it only makes sense when you first check whether the native app is installed and then try to open it. As a result, Springpad’s performance in the index suffered greatly.

SugarSync, Huddle

SugarSync offers a downloadable app for their service on mobile, but smartphone and tablet users browsing their website receive the same experience as a desktop user which results in long average response times of more than 46 seconds on iPhone and 47 seconds on iPad.

Visitors to the Huddle website also receive the same experience across devices, but with better performance. Huddle’s service is available via downloadable app for iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android and Blackberry.

Overall Thoughts

Collaboration startups clearly want their customers to use an on-device app when on a smartphone or tablet, but taking a one-size-fits-all approach is bad for users and performance.

For the full data from this month’s Startup Shootout, see below.

Aaron Rudger is the senior manager of web & mobile performance and Venkatesh Giri is the mobile evangelist at Keynote Systems.


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