Mobile application development is a “touchy” thing – both literally and figuratively. I mean it literally, in the sense that users generally let their fingers do the walking across your mobile app’s interface, which has some very interesting implications for your GUI (graphical user interface), and figuratively, in the sense that there are a lot of ways to go very wrong in the mobile development process.
I’ve had some limited experience in trying to design mobile apps, and a great deal of experience in using them. Very few apps that I download – and they must number in the thousands by now—pass the acid test of becoming permanent fixtures of my mobile experience. Most are “one and done” affairs, where I end up regretting the time I spent trying them out in the first place.
So here are four things that make a mobile app really stand out, from my perspective:
- Context is king. No, that’s not a typo. As a career journalist, I naturally owe my allegiance to content as the reigning liege lord, but when it comes to mobile, I think it takes a back seat to context. I don’t just want my apps to know the answers to the questions I ask, I actually want them to know the questions I’m going to ask, and then answer them for me without my having to bother to submit a query. Brevity is key in mobile transactions, just as it is in mobile communications. Less is much more. Utilizing fast access to Big Data repositories, combined with predictive modeling techniques, it is very possible for an app to be aware of my location and other status related to the task at hand, and therefore, to know what I want without my having to actually ask.
- Quality is queen. Since I’m using a monarchistic metaphor already, let’s stick with it. So many apps don’t make the grade because the just don’t hold up under pressure. With corporate apps in particular, your brand may be hanging in the balance, so an undocumented and unaddressed bug in your little app could have big consequences in terms of how your customers and employees view your entire organization. “For want of a nail…the kingdom was lost,” or so goes the proverb.
- Performance is prince. I know the metaphor is wearing thin — and now bordering on chauvinistic, since I keep putting the male heirs higher in the pecking order — but bear with me. I recently heard that user patience for a return result in a mobile app query is limited to around 2 seconds. The message is, yes, we as consumers have become incredibly spoiled by bandwidth – and yes, we will not tolerate slow apps for very long. Much of this can be addressed by caching data on the device so the app doesn’t have to go back to the server (or the “cloud”) at every turn before responding to the user, but there is a possible downside to that, as you’ll see in point No. 4.
- Privacy is princess. Privacy, and her handmaiden, Security, must be sacrosanct. Here lies the real future of the kingdom, folks. If you’re application is “leaky” with personal or privileged information, it can do more damage to the organization that published the app than all four of the previous points combined. Caching data locally on the mobile device can make the problem worse – even potentially disastrous.
So, there you have my “royal family” of mobile computing imperatives. I welcome your comments and observations on important best practices for expanding your family of mobile enterprise apps. (And while I’m busy belaboring this royal metaphor, I might as well wax Windsorial for the moment, and take the opportunity to publicly congratulate the British Royal Family on their pending new addition: Well done, Kate & Wills!)