Latency is getting to be a bigger deal for mobile user experience. Apps that load quickly on a PC take much longer to load on a smart phone or tablet, Yankee Group reports, using Keynote Systems data.

Also, according to Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe, typical users now carry as many as five different mobile devices. But each of those devices might be optimized in different ways, in terms of latency.

Load times among sites differ because in most cases, content owners are not customizing the content they deliver to the device, says Howe. The majority of the sites Keynote Systems monitored, including major online brands Craigslist and Apple, sent the same content to smart phones and tablets, for example.

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Facebook, Bing, Kayak, MSN, Amazon and IMDB all sent significantly more objects and bytes to tablets than to smart phones. These sites detected the larger screens of tablets and sent them more information, says Howe.

The one company that behaves significantly differently is Google, which sent roughly 450 KBytes to smart phones while sending only about 200 KBytes to tablets.

Google chooses to add several location-based options such as “Restaurants” and “Coffee” to smart phone content but doesn’t serve up those features to tablet users, probably because many tablets don’t offer location services by default. As a result, smart phones receive more content from Google than tablets do.

Those findings are interesting for several reasons. Since different devices feature different screen sizes and input and output capabilities, get used in different ways, at different locations, at different times of day, customizing the experience makes sense.

But tailoring a user experience based on what device is used, when it used or where it is used is not so different from tailoring an experience based on what application a user wants to engage with. And that’s where legitimate concerns about unfair business advantage bump up against end user preferences.

When a user wants to watch a video, conduct a video call or play an interactive game, issues such as latency and consistency of bandwidth availability are important performance parameters.

The policy issue is whether users or service providers ought to be able to manage network experience to enhance end user experience. For such reasons, some think “best effort only” access is not optimal.

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