By Mark Troester, Senior Director, Progress Software
Mobility is a hot buzzword. Put the word mobile in a budget proposal and odds are good it will go straight to the top of the pile. But wait—not so fast!
Organisations are still all over the map in terms of mobile development. Some have completed their first generation approach and are assessing their go-forward plans. Some are just beginning to address the role of mobility in their operations, while others are in the planning stage. Some organisations want to “mobilise” existing application functionality, while other organisations want to build brand new mobile apps.
Business apps are all over the map as well—with some companies creating customer facing apps, some building internal applications, and some doing both.
But do organisations really know where they are going, what they want and whether they will get it with all these investments? Maybe not. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been seeing a refinement of thinking going on. No one I’ve talked to wants to reverse course, exactly, but want their new approach to be a little less rushed and more strategic.
Just put the user first
One new approach is called mobile-first but is actually a misnomer. The philosophy behind mobile-first is to ensure that the design experience works for users, and works effectively across the entire spectrum of digital devices.
User-first app development considers a user’s environment, work style and other factors.
As I have written before, a better name for this approach is “user-first.” We should design the experience for the user based on his or her environment, the type of application, their work or lifestyle, and other variables. The user-first approach requires focusing on their needs and wants rather than starting with the limitations of a particular device or medium.
Why is this important? Well, we have all experienced sub-optimal application experiences—and not just in the mobile world. As a consumer, If we have a sub-optimal experience, we will likely move to another option. This has a direct impact on bottom line. For employees, too, the impact of a poor application experience can hurt productivity and morale. In either case, there are good reasons to address the challenge.
Easy to define, harder to remedy
User experience isn’t an easy situation to address since it is complicated by multiple factors, including:
• Device diversity: The number of devices that need to be supported—Android, iOS, Blackberry and more.
• Screen size: This isn’t a phone vs. tablet issue, but an issue for phones—different screen real estate situations for different devices.
• Phone vs. Mobile: Aside from screen real estate, we see that these devices are being used in different situations that should be factored into the design experience.
• Diverse usage: People use their phones at work, at home, in the car, traveling, commuting, outside, inside, in stores and in ways you may not expect. You should consider these factors based on how relevant it is to your application.
From a technical perspective, there are other challenges:
• The need to integrate the mobile app into your existing environment: Integrating with existing apps and data sources is important because you don’t want your mobile app to become a silo.
• Selecting the right back-end infrastructure to support your mobile apps: Ideally the back-end infrastructure would provide consistency across web and mobile apps, so that you decouple the back-end from different user interface requirements.
• The right blend of native or generic web browser application capabilities: While native apps that are written for each device provide the ultimate experience, the cost is prohibitive for your typical enterprise business application. It may be better to go with a hybrid design that leverages a container based approach. This can allow you to leverage specific platform capabilities like calendar, contacts or the camera by writing code that is not device specific. And it’s not just about writing code. Organisations should consider platforms that allow them to develop, deploy and manage mobile apps visually, without writing a lot of code.
The bottom line? By all means, embrace mobile, but make sure the user experience is front and center in your design and architecture approach. That will ensure that the investments you make are as effective as possible, and not just money thrown after a trend.