The momentum of mobile application development has accelerated over the past year.Apps have increased the functionality of mobile devices, and the success of Apple’siPhone app store has lead the charge in the introduction of app stores on other platforms such as Android, Palm, Nokia, and soon Windows Mobile. A key element in the adoption of mobile apps is a focus the user experience. There are lots of good apps out there, but many more bad ones.
So how do you ensure creating a great mobile experience for users? There are two key ingredients: One is focus, the other is testing. “Focus” actually has multiple parts, including simplicity, consistency, and great performance. Taken together, these parts help pinpoint the core elements to meets users’ needs. Focus is especially important for clients that have existing sites or applications – there is often a strong push to include much of the functionality that a user would encounter on a desktop. But because mobile has many different interactions than the desktop – frequency and duration of use, context (e.g. riding the bus, walking downtown), and input methods – it important to focus on core elements that be engaged with during common “mobile” usage.
A great example of focus can be seen by comparing Amazon.com’s desktop homepage and their mobile iPhone app. The Amazon desktop experience (left) includes a dizzying range of information and functionality. The Amazon mobile app (right) includes only core elements – search, product information/reviews, one-click purchase.
Edward Tufte nicely describes all the extra screen stuff as the “computer administration debris” – on mobile the content is the interface. Amazon has effectively minimized this debris and focused on content in their mobile app. By providing the core elements, mobile users can quickly and easily engage with Amazon’s extensive range of products and purchase them. Their mobile app is highly focused.
The other ingredient in ensuring your mobile app hits its mark is usability testing. Here the key is to have users engage with the app on the actual device and to have them complete authentic tasks. We like to have users sit or stand in the lab while interacting with the device. We record the device interface (either directly or using an emulator that runs on the observer’s computer) along with the user’s voice and facial expressions. Here we capture interaction issues as well as affective elements – how the user engages with the app, what gets them excited, etc. This provides a great opportunity to test out what features to include, along with highlighting issues that need to be addressed.
I’ve quickly described two core pieces in mobile app creation – focus and testing. It is important to note that there is a ton of thinking and decision making that goes into this process. But doing so helps ensure the best mobile experience possible.