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Mobile User Experience on Gambling websites: Apps versus m-web

16th June 2011

I’m just back from a very interesting day, at the inaugural mGaming Summit in London yesterday – where I shared the speaking platform alongside key folks from Ladbrokes, BlueSquare, PaddyPower and all the online gaming names.

Some interesting discussions on how to monitor what users do on your site.

There was a very surprising consensus about where the future is going –  from discussions comparing the pros and cons of running Apps for smart phones, versus making the m-web experience better for website visitors using mobile devices. But a future that bodes well for online user experience.

We’ve been measuring the 24/7 user experience online for a few gambling companies over the last few years: and more recently added monitoring of their mobile Apps and m-web sites.

Our approach, where our software acts like a real user, or ‘mystery shopper’: and visits the live website and actually clicks through the important User Journeys that are the vital money-making routes online.

This is not following a repetitive patterns but dynamic: for example a horse racing Journey might first search to find a list of horses coming up in the next 24 hours: choose at random from one; choose at random from the horses offered.  That way the journey is genuinely experiencing what typical users are experiencing. (NB this is generating real page hits on your site: unlike web analytics, which doesn’t, but which analyses the patterns of real user behaviour.  By taking the mystery shopper approach and actually hitting the site, we can discover the Whys that analytics cannot: eg if we find that 5% of journeys are particularly slow at a  certain spot, that may well explain the higher drop-off that the web analytics numbers show)

In some cases, we’ve seen that the newer services whether App based, or m-web, have suffered from a  worse user experience:  much larger slow downs during peak traffic of major sports events for example: or a surprisingly high percentage of niggling errors, that prevent users from placing bets at a late stage in the journey.

The root cause is often that the software that supports the new channels is newly written and not bedded down in the same way as the online websites are: hence software bugs are impacting user experience online.

In extreme cases, we’ve run special ‘Do What the Customer Does” user journeys to directly compare the experience between using online and using the App: and discovered problems even as far as a different in the choice of events or betting options offered through the two channels:  typically these problems only occur sporadically during peak traffic times: and thus are impacting a small percentage of a large user base – such customer journey errors are a big hit.

On the other hand:  some gambling sites we’ve measured offer better user experience through their Apps, than online.

Since we’ve measured the actual user experience on the site, confidence has been proven in the ability of key journeys to deliver.

Where user experience is better – it seems to be either cases where the back-end servers supporting the new App are running pretty much 100% existing, well proven  software.  Or else because new software is being used for the App, and this is clean code, and doesn’t suffer some of the legacy hiccups and limitations that the main website software has.

But back to the surprising consensus at the event: concerning the future of mobile Apps.  The iGaming companies, like other online players, find it expensive and time-consuming to support mobile Apps: for the simple reason that to cover the market, it’s no longer enough to have just an iPhone App: you need to develop one for Android too, and that still leaves other platforms to think about.

That’s extra cost, extra hassle to support into the future: and puts a higher initial cost hurdle at the start of offering mobile apps.

But the iGaming sector has another hurdle too – the major AppStores like the iTunes one and the Android, are not treating gambling apps the same as others.   iPhone are regulating strictly new gambling apps:  some lucky iGaming big brands have got their apps in already: whereas others are now finding it impossible:  Apple seem to play an endless game (sorry about the pun) of asking for changes in the App, and then still not agreeing them.

Taking those two hurdles together – the consensus in several keynote sessions, was that the iGaming sector will move away from Apps to the mobile-web:    web site designs that are focused on giving a good user experience from small screen mobile device.  HTML5 is already smoothing the way towards this.

This is something we, as a company doing website performance monitoring and seeing how that is impacted by the range of technology problems and hiccups across the whole sector, have been supporting, (and hoping for !) for a while.  The lesson of the Internet – is that when technology standards are available, it allows much faster adoption: so building new mobile sites once-for-all on HTML5 is a huge advantage compared to going the App route: where you need to develop for one purpose 2 or 3 different Apps to cater for the differing handset platforms: such a waste of tech resources.

However, in the short term, the use of Apps for online gaming will continue: but if the consensus at the summit represents the wider market – their days are numbered.