Businesses are feeling intense pressure to deliver mobile apps, but when they try to do the right thing by asking the people who will use them what they need, it often leads to frustration and failure.
Mobile Apps are not Desktop Apps
Mobile Apps are not applications, but often enterprises looking to develop mobile apps do so from the start point of an existing desktop application and this can be the first mistake.
Some of the key differences between mobile apps and desktop apps are:
- Short session lengths - Gartner research shows that the average interaction with smartphones is just over one minute. Tablet sessions last roughly seven minutes. Mobile app usage needs to conform to this reality.
- Minimal complexity of apps - Mobile apps are not like desktop applications. Given the shorter session lengths, the apps must be much more targeted, with task and business-specific functionality. Other studies show that any app that is more than two clicks deep loses 50% of the users. Employees are consumers, and this behaviour applies to business apps as well.
- Consumer functionality expectations - Employees expect business apps to have the same level of usability and functionality that they have experienced as consumers of apps from public app stores. If a business app fails short of expectations it will either not be used or will be used as minimally as possible.
- BYO and Diverse Devices - Users increasingly expect to be able to access enterprise mobile apps on whatever device they choose, so apps must be able to run across multiple devices with multiple configurations.
User-Centric v User-Led App Design
One of the main difficulties arising out of asking users what they want in a mobile app is that they do not know what makes a good mobile app.
Because users are being asked about the need for a mobile app in an environment where enterprise mobile apps most likely do not yet exist, the users are likely to discuss needs from the perspective that they are familiar with - the desktop. This frame of reference leads to requests that are inappropriate for mobile apps.
Users tend to talk about features they require in an app, rather than the outcome. They may also have unrealistic expectations about what can be delivered on a mobile platform (see table below).
Development teams that are user-led will try to deliver features in a mobile app that users ask for. However these requests often arise from a poorly defined frame of reference based on existing processes and result in complexity that can not be reasonably accommodated in the mobile environment.
Development teams that are user-centric will listen to end users, recognise what their requests really mean, and define requirements for mobile apps that fit the behavioural characteristics, while addressing the device limitations. In short, they need to translate what they hear from users into what is appropriate and valuable for mobile.