Making The Most of Maps for Mobile

Mobile Map

Using maps to present information poses some user experience issues, particularly when they are accessed on smartphones and tablet devices.

On a desktop or laptop computer, mouse or track-pad interaction provides a high-level of precision, and the ability to click and drag. This interaction is more difficult on a touch-device, since the same drag gesture that pans a map is also used to scroll web pages or app screens. When a map is surrounded by other content, care must be taken to provide boundaries around the map with enough space for users to touch and scroll the page without inadvertently panning the map.

The size of elements on a map the user can interact with is also a concern. Touchscreens and “fat fingers” need a much larger target than a mouse pointer. Since the markers on the map need to be larger for touch-interaction, it’s important to have a strategy to deal with how those markers will overlap when the map is zoomed out. We discussed this in an earlier post (see tip #3 in Make Maps Most Meaningful With These 4 Tips).

Map performance is also important to ensure a useful and usable experience on mobile devices that may have a slow cellular connection. Simplifying data, choosing a base-map with the appropriate level of detail, and managing map content in memory efficiently are strategies that apply to any solution but are of increased importance for use on mobile devices.

Finally, providing an alternative way to access information, and not relying solely on a map is also a good practice. In usability research from Nielsen Norman Group, when presented with location-specific search results on a mobile site that did not include a map, not a one user indicated they would have preferred seeing results on a map. This sentiment is no doubt influenced by poor experiences with map-centric solutions, but it highlights the fact that many users find a list-based solution more approachable, so providing a list and a map as alternative ways to view information can strike the perfect balance.

Take care. Be prepared.

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