Mobile apps in the post-web future

A major theme at yesterday’s Media140 DigitalBusiness conference was the future of multi-device mobile apps. Rod Farmer from Mobile Experience and Richard Giles from Adapptor shared some thoughts on designing for a multi-device experience and the shifting mobile marketplace…

Rod Farmer, Director of Research and Strategy from UX consultancy Mobile Experience, discussed product and service design for multiple devices. He defined a multi-device experience strategy as one which “identifies the sets of activities, from a users perspective, that is needed to deliver a series of consistent and meaningful interactions across devices, and whose design is true to each device, context and usage”.

For developers deciding whether to go mobile web or hybrid, Farmer advises that this discussion will increasingly become “and”, not “or”. At present, if designing for infrequent use or low consumption, he advises mobile web will be sufficient. As soon as you are developing for more rich interactions or increased content, this should be an application. And when designing for detailed integration, high content consumption and cross device usage, this should ideally be a native experience. However, going forward, for both simple and advance apps, Farmer feels confident that mobile web will overcome native and hybrid to become the predominant means for delivering experiences across devices.

This view is backed up in a recent article from PandoDaily hailing the death of web 2.0: “people now spend more time in mobile apps than they do online. There are more than 500 million Android and iOS devices on the market, and giant countries like China and Indonesia are only just getting started in their smartphone and tablet push. Global mobile 3G subscribers are growing at over 35 percent, year on year, and there’s a lot more room to move – there are 5.6 billion mobile subscribers on our planet. Even in developing countriescheap smartphones will soon rush into the market”.

Touching on viability, Farmer advises that developers/producers must design and budget for support once the app is in the ‘wild’. For example, android must be supported over time due to high fragmentation and heavy updates schedule. As ever, content is critical to a multi-device user experience. When planning access and flow of content across devices, Farmer suggests the following lifecycle: creation -> curation -> normalization -> adaption -> transformation. Speaking to the designer vs developer debate, Farmer revealed that 80% of all errors in the wild are traceable back to the requirements and design phase, and that the cost of fixing in the wild versus in the design/build phase is 10:1. In terms of planning engaging and sustainable user experience strategy, Farmer advises developers to think in terms of a series of interactions across your brand, affected by – and surviving – the influence of ‘detractors’ and ‘delighters’ (negative and positive points on the user journey).

In the same PandoDaily article, the message is that whereas Web 2.0 values – characterized by social sharing and collaboration – drove the design and development of social engagement on community sites, the mobile age demands new parameters. Developers now need to think of “services that require less typing, fewer buttons, simple swipe and pinch actions, browsing that seamlessly integrates vertical and horizontal movement, larger images, and fewer data hooks that clutter up the user experience”.

Lastly, Farmer shared some average costs (AUD) to develop a simple mobile application (assuming just 4 features and 4 week delivery): iPhone: native = $32,639, hybrid = $36,719, mobile web = $24,479; iPad: native = $48,959, hybrid = $35,899, mobile web = $30,599; Android: native = $57,118, hybrid = $73, 438, mobile web = $48,959; and Blackberry: native = $97,917, hybrid= $110,157, mobile web = $73,238.  Later on in the day, Richard Giles from Adapptor cautioned not to expect mobile web to be the cheapest option when taking into account the number of different web browsers that you have to optimize for in your development and execution.  Android has other hidden costs, such as screen densities, given the hugely diverse and fragmented android device marketplace.

Giles then shared information on mobile vs browser web consumption in the USA.  In June 2010, the average American spent 64mins/day web browsing, compared to 43 mins/day online via mobile apps.  Fastforward just 18 months and that figure has flipped: in December 2011, the average American spent 72mins/day web browsing and 94mins/day online via mobile apps. In terms of the android vs iOS debate, Giles concluded that while more android devices are now being purchased than iOS, android users are not downloading as much. A mobile traffic report generated the day before revealed mobile web traffic across the US was 27.8% android and 64.3% iOS.

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