The consideration to build applications for mobile devices has largely become mandated for all businesses wishing to engage their users. With the proliferation of mobile devices globally, Australia has ranked among the highest mobile users with more devices per person only third behind China and India. Yet the challenge facing all businesses globally remains the same:
– What should a mobile application be for an organisation
– Should it include everything the company can do on a single application or many small applications
– Should a company choose Android, Apple and/or Microsoft as their development platforms?
Some considerations for developing applications include:
1. Strategic goals for the Application strategy
A set of goals for the organisation must be established. Is it intended that the organisation be the innovator by leading the competition with mobile applications development and delighting users with the latest offering of features. Is the organisation seeking digital loyalty among users or seeking to develop a range of essential services to customers? It is possible to consider both strategies, however it is essential that they must be prioritised.
2. Understand your user audience
There should always be an understanding of the targeted user base. Few organisations seek to understand what the user wants in the mobile space, what they are doing and what services they are seeking to perform while in the mobile area. These activities include trying to understand what their users are typically doing when they access services via their mobile device. What is often further misconstrued is what the user does on a mobile device versus their desktop. Further considerations can include their tablets, which again offer a potentially different experience.
The simplest examples could include a user paying an insurance renewal with no changes to the policy via a mobile device, making some changes on a tablet or completely reconfiguring their policy via a desktop. A user might need breakdown assistance via a mobile more than via a desktop given the likely geographic location when breaking down. There is much research today that indicates most car purchasing now starts on a mobile device, extends to car sales applications (such as Carsales.com.au) on a mobile and can then include detailed research via a desktop.
Again, users tend to remove applications that they do not user frequently. At best, a less frequently used application will now be relegated to a ‘junk’ folder placed out of sight on a users device.
The process for selecting the application strategy involves configuring an expected user journey between devices, offering the range of services that would likely appeal to a user.
3. Build a user focus group
A key failing of many organisations often includes not spending time with users to really understand their behaviours and what they are looking for in a mobile application. While developing the features of the mobile experience that is being developed, users provide valuable feedback on what is going to be used in the application and what is going to be irritable. Including these groups should go well beyond the initial discovery phases.
4. Identify a minimalist viable solution
Many organisations have a large range of services and opportunities to provide contact points to their user base. It is important not to try to include everything at once. Not only does a large range of services take time to develop and implement, it increases the initial cost and possibly at the expense of the user experience.
Consider that most smartphones release new devices annually, with new software versions coming out every 6 months. These cycles continuously change the expectations of users, as they demand that their applications make use of new features. A most recent example is the Apple Pay system included on the latest iPhone devices, which has seen more than 3 million users load their credit cards on to their phones in the first month of availability. Demand like this is not driven by a need to pay at a shop (users already had that); it was a need to make use of the latest features.
5. Plan for multiple releases
There are many statistics to support the view that with each release, users will reengage with a mobile application with new features. By offering key functionality over a range of releases, users will grow with the application and become familiar with its operations and remain engaged. Releasing too often however reduces confidence in the application, indicating to users that you are constantly releasing a beta program with bugs and shortcomings.
There is also a significant opportunity to grow an application and its features in new directions as the user behaviours change, and more feedback on the application is provided. There is considerable value derived by including that feedback into the next development iteration. Resolving common user issues and feedback also generates goodwill between the organisation and the user base when they feel that their concerns are being addressed through the latest releases.
6. Balance your users and your business
Two vastly different approaches to applications development are user centric design, which considers every nuance of the application from the perspective of the user, which many users will love. Conversely, a business value approach considers the needs of the business first above the users. Activities such as this seek to drive transaction outcomes and position functionality to extract maximum returns on the applications investment. User studies, expert opinions, technical and feasibility studies should all be considered in the application development strategy to derive the best outcome.
7. Know what is already out there
The best way to grow the knowledge pool is spending time on applications. This includes downloading apps, using the latest stuff and building a collection of applications and functions that enables a strategic roadmap. Some will provide the knowledge of essential functions that users are expecting while other applications will make it clear which are the cutting edge ones that you can consider later on. Most mobile technologists will have a pool of applications on their devices that they monitor – just to see what is coming in the next hottest application.
8. Bring your Technology teams to the discussions early
The biggest challenge of any mobile application, for any business period above all things is to integrate the application and its services with the organisations technical infrastructure. This will vary from every organisation, and it is the one major challenge that almost every mobile developer misses. The fact is that the front-end development is easy to build. User experience and functions can be hard to get right, but even school children are now cutting their teeth on coding for a mobile application. The real difficult part is getting the integration right with the back end technology. Without bringing the services available in the organisation to the mobile device, the application is nothing more than a brochure.
9. Decide on a technology you can live and grow with
Mobile technology is forever evolving and has done so (from an average consumer perspective) for the last 20 years with even the first Motorola phones. New functions, features and operating systems have emerged and within each of them, they have grown in new directions.
Choosing a platform to develop on is needed and regardless of the offerings of some organisations that make the claim that they can easily ‘port your app’ between two operating systems – it never happens that easily. The platforms for Apple, Android and Microsoft are very different and while the basic features, functions and style can remain consistent, the code behind them has different requirements. For example, while each will include fingerprint security, there is a separate piece of code required to implement that function for each platform. (The best developers will also have their favourite platforms too, and while they are excited to build on one platform, they are almost definitely just doing the others to accommodate a request and this often is demonstrated in the coding behind the application).
So why should an organisation care about choosing a platform? Certainly not just to placate a developer, but the functions that are made available via the platform will be reflected in the development path. Platform stability, reliability and consistency is important to the business as much to the developer as an unstable, unreliable and inconsistent platform will impact the cost of development, frequency of bugs and ultimately the end user experience.
The four pillars of choice include:
– HTML (mobile web)
10. Plan to Analyse
Analytics provide two important functions on the application and the development lifecycle. While the measure of success is often indicated by the number of downloads, some other valuable metrics should include:
– How long people are in the app for
– Most visited areas
– Most used functions
– Typical paths
– User deletions of the application
– Versions of operating system and device type
These can influence the roadmap and the next steps of the application development journey.