Greg M. Thompson

Senior Consultant - App Programmer/Developer

The Challenge in Designing Mobile Apps: Part 2

In my previous post, which was titled The Challenge in Designing Mobile Apps: Part 1, one of the challenges I presented had to do with how the app should be narrowly focused and do just a few things very well.  In addition, the app should be simple and intuitive to use, and should not require any sort of users manual to be read before the user is able use it.  I talked about how the scenarios and environments in which a mobile app is used are quite different than for more traditional desktop computer software.  I also talked about how a user will often use an app for only short periods of time and expect the app to accomplish their task quickly and efficiently.

You may be familiar with the Apple App Store.  This is a web-based iOS app store that a user can access from any computing device.  In the Apple App Store, a user can shop for, and purchase, apps directly from their iOS device ( iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch ).  The Apple App Store is now a few years old and contains over half a million apps for sale and download.  I read on the news all the time how the number of apps just keeps growing and growing.  In my humble opinion, I would classify only a small number of these apps as “world class and top quality”.  Why so few?  The answer is, of course, because designing and programming mobile apps is full of challenges!  Of course, what those challenges are depends on the type of the app, and it’s features.

Since there are so many challenges that must be dealt with when designing and programming a mobile app, I was not able to fit them all into my previous article.  This second article will present some additional challenges a professional mobile app design and programming team, such as the CIBER Global Mobility Practice, must contend with when designing and programming a “world class, top quality”  mobile app.

To start the ball rolling, I’ll start off by saying that users expect any mobile app they are using to be rock, solid stable.

Rock, solid stable.  Huh?

As an example, let’s consider your television.  Any television designed and built during the last couple of years has a fair amount of software running on it, in order to provide that beautiful digital viewing experience.  Personally, I can’t recall a time when my television behaved strangely, or worse yet, just stopped working.  That is, behaved strangely due to the software.  By “behave strangely”, I mean, for instance, when I select to increase the brightness and, instead of increasing, the brightness decreases.

In general, whether it’s a television or a coffee maker, software on these devices tends to behave very reliably, and in a consistent manner.  Users expect this when using their electronics and appliances.  Not surprisingly, users now expect this when using their mobile apps also, as well they should.  Top quality, world class apps do not behave buggy and do not crash.  Ever!

Another challenge in building a great mobile app is what’s referred to as “app responsiveness”.  This primarily pertains to any app running on a touch screen device, like the iPhone or the iPad.  Great app responsiveness means that when a button is tapped, or a scroll list is swiped, the app should immediately give some feedback to the user that something has happened.

One of the reasons great mobile apps are such a joy to use is because they often represent the digital version of a real world experience.  For instance, the Apple iBooks app allows a user to read a digital book and turn pages, just as if he or she is reading a real book.  When reading a real book, there is never a delay, or stuttering, in the physical movement of the page, as it curls over from one side to the other.  Unless, that is, something like chewing gym is involved.  When a user turns the page while reading an iBooks book, the page turning animation is smooth and immediate.  This is what users expect.

The final challenge I want to introduce is that apps must look beautiful.  The graphics and images should be created by a professional graphic artist and fit perfectly with the theme of the app.  Also, the color scheme should be carefully considered and also should involve the graphic artist.  Apple, and it’s iOS devices, reset the bar on how world class, top quality apps should look.  Users now expect this from all apps.  Especially an app they spent their hard earned money on.  Even apps designed to be used only within the corporate enterprise environment should look nice.  Otherwise, the app is less likely to be used.  Unlike traditional software, it is very easy for a user to never tap your app’s icon in order to launch it.  Even worse, it is very easy for a user to uninstall an app.  When designing an app, I like to keep in mind what I call the “warm and fuzzy” feeling.  That is, when someone is using my app, I want them to love using it and to always have that comfortable “warm and fuzzy” feeling.

Stay tuned for my next article in this series, in which I will be presenting yet more challenges encountered when designing and programming world class, top quality mobile apps.







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