3 Practices for Mobile First Apps

By Dave Mendlen, Chief Marketing Officer, Infragistics — July 13, 2014

It's happened. We are no longer shackled to our desktop computers. So with this nirvana of smart mobile phones and powerful tablets, why aren’t we much happier?
 
With access to information and apps on our mobile devices, why isn't it easier to find information and share it with our co-workers—whether we’re commuting to work, on a sales call or sitting in a conference room?
 
The problem is clear. The experiences on our mobile devices aren’t great. Why not? Many software vendors have created hit apps on the desktop and are migrating them to mobile platforms using this approach: "My customers know how to use my app on the desktop, so I need to make sure the mobile version looks and feels the same."
 
And that's where everything goes wrong. Those painful experiences on our mobile devices exist because vendors are trying to build apps that mimic the look and feel of desktop solutions. Why doesn't that work? Well, most mobile devices are very different from desktop PCs—in three major ways:

  1. Screen real estate: Desktop screens are 30 to 50 times bigger than a mobile phone. When you squish down a big app to fit in that little window, you get a bad user experience.

  2. Touch: Most mobile devices are designed to be operated by touching, swiping and pinching. But desktop apps that are ported to mobile devices aren’t optimized for touch—the recommended size for a touch-capable button on a device is 44 pixels by 44 pixels, while most ported desktop apps are much smaller. That means the apps are hard to use with your finger or thumb, and that translates into a bad user experience.

  3. Mobile devices have features that desktop PCs don't have, such as front- and back-facing cameras, as well as other sensors like GPS and accelerometers that know about the direction of the device and whether it’s horizontal or vertical. The lack of support for the device’s unique functionality also creates a bad user experience.

With all of these contributors to a bad user experience, it's no wonder end users are increasingly dissatisfied with their mobile business experiences.
 
A mobile first approach realizes the fallacy of force-fitting desktop apps into smartphones and tablets supports the newer approach. The idea is simple: Developers should be building for mobile before they build a desktop app.
 
3 Best Practices

  1. Rethink the approach to your business problem. Desktop apps are heavyweight, complex tools that connect to industrial-strength database back-ends. Often the information that comes out of these systems provides visualizations that are just not very good. Rethinking the solution in mobile terms may change underpinning assumptions.

  2. Rise to the new user interface standard. People have gotten comfortable with beautiful apps they’ve used on their mobile devices. Consequently, their expectations have increased dramatically. It’s no longer good enough to build apps with a battleship-gray background and lots of textboxes to complete. Customers are expecting amazing experiences—even from business apps.

  3. Leverage the device .iPhones, iPads, and Android tablets and phones all have cameras. It's like having a built-in scanner for every user. You can employ it to scan in a document or use it with QR codes to navigate a business user inside of an application. Take advantage of the underlying device and be rewarded with a much happier customer and improved business process.

Thinking mobile first is about helping to create experiences that are tailored for amazing smartphones and tablets. It's about helping customers get return on their investments in mobile devices. It’s about enabling information to flow freely anytime, anywhere. 

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