The Key to Quick Mobile App Navigation

By on May 12, 2008 12:02 am

Navigating a mobile app can be slow, especially on long pages and slow scrolling phones. Fortunately the xhtml mobile profile markup language supported by mobile phones provides a solution to finding links and starting phone calls inside the mobile browser.


Adding the accesskey attribute to link a lets users “click” on that link by simply pressing a number on their phone’s keypad. Valid values for accesskey can be 0-9,#, and * (all of the keys on a standard phone keypad). Displaying which key will activate a link is up to the application as most phones won’t tell the user that a link has an access key. Web site designers currently need to decide on a consistent way to inform users that an access key is associated with a given link. Most apps will use ordered lists where the order of the links corresponds with the access keys. Putting the number in brackets inside or next to the link is another way to denote the accesskey.

CNN’s mobile site makes good use of accesskeys. They have chosen to associate the main sections of their web site with the access keys 1 through 9:


CNN uses a span with the access key number to highlight to the user what number to press to activate the link:


Pagination links, home page, and any other page that the user will use often are good candidates for adding an accesskey. Consistency is key: if home is (1) on one page, then it should be (1) on all the other pages where that link exists. If users can rely on a keys behaving constantly they will use them. Just like other information architecture exercises, take the necessary time to properly allocate the 12 accesskey options to the pages in your app.

Beyond the accesskey

Like the accesskey, starting a phone call from a link is just as simple. Just as mailto: will open an email message on a desktop web browser, adding href=”tel:5555555555″ to a link will start a call and dial 555-555-5555 automatically for the user. Keep in mind that most phones not developed by Apple cannot handle a web or WAP session and a phone call at the same time, so the session will end when the link is clicked.

Using both the access key and the tel protocol will enhance your mobile applications by saving the user time and integrating the mobile web experience with the voice features on the phone. Consider adding them to your existing mobile applications or using them on your next mobile project.