I went to the Pizza Hut site to see if the new store just around the corner from my house opened up and was greeted with a little flash animation informing me of “Total Mobile Access!!” for pizzahut.com. “How cool is that!!” I say to myself (I often speak to myself when using the web). I simply must try this out. Turns out they have two options, order via SMS or order via mobile web. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Although I think SMS services are spectacular for some things, for ordering a pizza I want an interface.
I decided to write up the experience not to poke fun at PizzaHut, but to give a concrete example of some of the challenges that you have to face when making a mobile site. I think it’s kick ass that PizzaHut has decided to do something it would call Total Mobile Access. I’m just afraid that they might not get the results they would like to see out of the effort. And it’s our responsibility (those of us trying to work to expand the mobile ecosystem) to figure out how to make these things work better.
The website says I need to create an account on the web before I can order from the mobile site. Oops. That mobile site is going to be really useful when my Google map search that tells me there’s a PizzaHut right around the corner allows me to place an order right then. I’m sure that would be easy for them to fix. But how was the decision made not to allow signup or ordering from the mobile web site? There might have been some technical reasons not to do it, but I’m pretty sure any rational look at expected user behavior would point out that the technical cost is worth paying in this case. More about this later.
Once I setup an account on the desktop side I went and visited the www.pizzahut.com site from the browser on my N95. I waited while it loaded and loaded, it looked the same as the version I saw on the desktop. Turns out they’re doing device detection to redirect the user to the proper version. My device isn’t something they pick up as mobile. And the normal desktop version isn’t something that I can interact with through the Nokia browser either, so no help there.
No problem! I’ll just do it through Opera Mini instead, I’m sure they’ll pick that up as a mobile browser. Indeed they do! However OperaMini can’t parse it right away. It can display the page. I just get an error when I load pages telling me the page has problems, should it be “reparsed as HTML?” (an error which should probably never appear to a user by the way). And even after clicking on that I get a page with fields, but no buttons to do things like login. And the page looked messy, repeated graphics all over. Something was yanking at the back of my mind. It looks like something I can almost remember…..
WAP! It looks like what happens when you parse a WML page as HTML. So I spoofed the headers in my Firefox install to pull up the page, sure enough that’s what it is. The lowest common denominator definitely was WML, but I’m not sure I would use it for anything at this point. It’s kinda seeped out of my mind that it ever existed. Apparently the OperaMini folks, who are no slouches when it comes to mobile prowess in general, seem to think the same way. Just goes to show all the strange errors that creep up when some twist of fate ends you up with forked markup languages. Lets hope nothing like that ever happens again. W3C, I’m looking at you.
I was going to see if I could get the confirmation message for a delivery done via the mobile web delivered via SMS instead of email, but I can’t test that right now cause the store is currently closed and I can’t even go through part of the ordering process. Actually, looking at these pages I might only be able to place an order online for delivery. (Sidenote: my address does not exist in the mind of the database that PizzaHut owns, which is odd cause literally
two blocks away) Maybe I’m doing things a bit weird, but it’s not uncommon for me to include “getting dinner” in a laundry list of other things to do while I’m leaving the house. Get paper towels, drop off the mail, maybe drop in on Fry’s for a bit, and get dinner. The confirmation email about my order, kinda useless. However, letting me know if I can linger in Fry’s for a while longer or if my pizza is currently getting cold, that would actually provide unique mobile value not available before.
Then I started wondering how long PizzaHut have been running this service. Turns out it might have just started a few days ago. (Another sidenote: check out the “press coverage” for this, page after page after page of cut/paste press release with a few people who have cut graphics off the PC website. I wonder if I’m the first non PizzaHut employee to try this thing out). I would really love to see the services evolve. Apparently the decisions behind the mobile website are based on some studies of user behavior, but if you read a few of those news articles it becomes pretty obvious that the marketing department had a heavy hand in what happened to the application. Take this bit for example:
“We’ve designed our ordering system to be user-friendly with just a couple of steps, as opposed to the overly complicated, multiple-step system our competition devised,” Niccol said.
Great idea! Poor execution. If I were PizzaHut this is what I would do:
- XHTML as well as WML, going in that direction is dirt simple.
- You say you’re going for the tech savvy core of folks, but the app itself seems to be designed for the phones the average user would have in their pocket. Excellent to be thinking ahead like that. But in the meantime keep an eye on the devices that are hitting the site and make sure you understand what your users are doing. Closely related to ordering from a handset is ordering from a PSP or DS, anyone tried that? How about from a Wii?
- Allow signups from the mobile, or even better order without signup.
- Send confirmations via SMS when ordering mobile, and if you can provide some extra info like when the pizzas are ready that would be just peachy as well.
- Try doing other things from your mobile and making sure that they do what they should. For example, try a Google Mobile search for ‘pizzahut’ and clicking on the pizzahut.com link that shows up. Right now I’m going to the transcoded version of pizzahut.com instead of to the mobile version cause there’s no header indicating that a mobile version exists.
I think this is a pretty good example of some of the odd pitfalls that exist when doing mobile development for the web. Most people who have never tried it think it just means writing simpler HTML. Most people who have tried it run screaming and are later unable to articulate what exactly it was that made it so difficult. It makes for a pretty impenetrable fog around the whole area, even if there is more overall attention being paid to going mobile. And it doesn’t help that “coverage of mobile” in the media seems to consist almost entirely of cutting and pasting press releases, with the occasional dash of regurgitating the party line spit to you by some exec about their own product (complete with competition bashing).