Consumers losing patience with the slow mobile web

High consumer expectations for the mobile web aren’t yet being met, with 71 percent expecting sites to load on smartphones just as fast as they load on desktop computers. This adds a challenge for companies trying to build a mobile presence, as 43 percent of smartphone users won’t return to a site if it loads too slowly on the handset. Mobile websites are gaining functionality and therefore complexity, which can both tax the processing power of a smartphone while also loading slowly on 3G networks that looked speedy just a few years ago.

The data on consumer tolerances for mobile website performance comes today from a Compuware (s cpwr) survey of 4,014 mobile web users around the world. The report, dubbed “What Users Want From Mobile,” paints an unexpectedly dreary picture for the mobile web, even as more people are switching from feature phones to capable smartphones. The survey illustrates that the longer the load time of a mobile site, the higher the rate of abandonment: Seventy-four percent of mobile phone users won’t wait more than 5 seconds for a page load. A few other noteworthy data points from the free report, which also mentions mobile apps in passing:

  • Almost half of those surveyed, 46 percent, said websites load more slowly on their phone than on the desktop.
  • Nearly 60 percent of web users say they expect a website to load on their mobile phone in 3 seconds or less.
  • An even 50 percent are only willing to wait 5 seconds or less for an application to load before exiting.
  • More than 80 percent of mobile web users would access websites more often from their phone if the experience was as fast and reliable.
  • Nearly half of mobile web users are unlikely to return to a website that they had trouble accessing from their phone, and 57 percent are unlikely to recommend the site.

Of note is that survey participants must own a mobile phone and have used it at least once in the past year. That means owners of web-enabled feature phones could be skewing the results downward.

Fortunately, some help is on the way: This year is shaping up to be the coming-out party for dual-core chips and 4G networks. Most new high-end handsets arriving today are powered by processors with two computing cores clocked at 1 GHz or better, which provides a noticeable performance boost over last year’s smartphones: Web pages can render much faster with these chips. And although T-Mobile and Sprint (s s) led the 4G charge prior to this year — depending on your definition of 4G, that is — networks are now seeing upgrades that can provide download speeds of 12 Mbps or more on a mobile device.

It’s going to take time before most consumers have smartphones with multiple cores and 4G radios, however. And that means businesses trying to establish themselves on the mobile web need to manage what they control, which is the actual code for their mobile website. While you’d expect it to be fairly obvious that web developers should optimize their code for use on handsets, the data from Compuware’s survey puts a relatively detailed level of measurement as to why it really matters. Maturing smartphone hardware and mobile broadband networks will surely help, but businesses shouldn’t rely on them to solve all of their mobile web problems.