Building Mobile Experiences That Don’t Suck

This post was written for Make Web Not War

Building Mobile Experiences That Don’t Suck
by Frédéric Harper

Frédéric Harper is a Developer Evangelist at Microsoft Canada, based in Montreal. He gave a very interesting session this morning on what makes a mobile experience successful.

What type of application?

Frédéric started his session by describing what brings a user to download and use an app:

  • The user wants to perform microtasks like sending a quick email
  • The user wants to enhance his local experience like finding the best restaurant around his current location
  • The user is bored and needs to be entertained quickly and for a short period of time like playing a game

Deciding what the mission of your app is then easier to find by choosing one of those categories.

Mobile vs Desktop

A mobile application is not a desktop application. The work space is completely different and so is the location of tools. Try comparing one of your desktop applications like your email software to what you use to send emails on your mobile gadget.

Desktop

On a desktop application, you will always locate the controls at the top of your screen and the actual content at the bottom.

Mobile

On mobile applications, the reverse is being applied with the content always shown first and the controls at the bottom. Frédéric made a smart comment about how most important controls should always be easy of reach with your thumb. Any action that needs to be triggered by using another finger than your thumb makes you hide the whole screen for a second.

He mentioned how the url textbox in Windows Phone 7.5 was moved to the bottom of the screen and it totally makes sense with that idea.

So remember to keep everything under the thumb to bring an easy single hand experience. If you really need to use another finger other than the thumb, try to create a left/right browsing.

Keeping your user at ease

You might want to get the user to use your application in different ways like tilting the screen to control a race car’s directions or shaking the phone to refresh the screen but some users can be reluctant so always prepare a back-up solution with single touch controls.

Also, if you’re going to use some more advanced functions for your application, do some research on what’s been done with that function in other well-known apps so that it still makes sense in your user experience.

Examples:

  • Facebook – Shake to refresh the timeline
  • Urbanspoon – Shake to get a random recipe

Another aspect of applications that is not popular at all is text inputs. If you need your user to enter data, try to make it as quick and painless as possible because nobody likes to type on a tiny screen.

Don’t forget about websites

The mobile experience in applications should also be transferred to websites and even if your site will re-size automatically, it’s always more enjoyable to browse on a real mobile version.

Why your application?

So you want to create an app? What will differentiate yours from the 50 other apps that do the same and how are you going to convince a user to choose you?

Frédéric proposes, as one idea in many, to take an existing concept and to tweak it for a different experience. Like the funny idea to see where your ex checks in on Foursquare so you don’t go to the same place.

Conclusion

Overall, making a fun experience for your user is not so hard as long as you think about it and work on a solid interface.

One important thing to remember when you start coding is to stop scaling down to a particular type of mobile like desktop applications do in most cases.

Session covered at