The mobile applications landscape has evolved faster than anyone anticipated. According to Markets and Markets research, the total global mobile applications market is expected to be worth $25 billion by 2015.
The rapid evolution often causes organizations to believe that mobile applications must be built quickly, and without much planning, as the next best thing can easily replace them. With this mentality, many companies operate without any kind of rational mobile product lifecycle management. Here are three main considerations for developing a better approach.
Proper planning is critical
Define the business case. Whether or not you need an app depends on the needs of your users. Organizations sometimes believe they need an app to stay ahead of the curve, but a mobile-friendly website may serve their users just as well.
Evaluate feasibility. Once the business case is defined, get the development team involved. While anyone can dream up a mobile application, they’re not as easy to build as to conceive and require considerably more development flexibility and user involvement than other development projects to ensure success.
Take the time needed to release a solid product. Most software development projects require updates, bug fixes and changes. The best mobile roadmaps call for an agile approach with time to incorporate hot fixes, user feedback and real-world testing. Balancing the need to ensure quality with organizational pressures to “just get it out there” can be daunting, but it’s critical that the app meets user needs from Day One. Consumers have no tolerance for poor experiences.
Invoke the “my mom” test. Prototyping rich touchscreen interactivity is a key component during the planning process — and the entire lifecycle of the product. If you show the prototype to a non-tech-savvy individual (such as your mother) and she can’t immediately open it and use it for its intended purpose, you’re on the wrong track.
Test the hardware. One aspect of planning that can blindside new mobile developers is the required hardware investment. Ideally, you need access to all popular smartphones running on each OS. Jailbroken units, multiple apps running in the background, Bluetooth extensions and moving from a carrier network to Wi-Fi can affect performance differently on different handsets. Testing in as many real-world scenarios as possible must be afforded in your roadmap.
Set expectations. Because of the level of innovation in the industry and the constant release of new platforms and devices, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll be pushing out a launch date or timeline to accommodate new developments. It’s important to manage stakeholder expectations across the organization to account for this.
Fragmentation and a lack of standardization is unavoidable
No channel is more fragmented than mobile. This means that your development team must deliver as much functionality as possible to ensure a good user experience, knowing that the OS and device landscape will change.
To decide which devices and operating systems deserve the lion’s share of your time, look at your website’s traffic data to get a sense of your visitors’ most popular devices and platforms. If you don’t have good data, start with Apple and the most popular Android devices. Then choose devices utilizing the purest forms of Android. Note that some devices have oddly-featured versions of Android (such as the Droid Razr), but if such a device has a significant footprint among your users, you can’t abandon it. Although developing code for one device with an odd version of Android can create headaches, these users will expect your app to work.
Finally, use analytics data to tier device and OS popularity and prioritize your focus.
Mobile is a great opportunity for the enterprise
Some organizations have missed the opportunity to maximize business productivity with mobile apps for the enterprise. Workers always have their mobile devices at hand. By evaluating data, companies can learn exactly where the best touch points are — often referred to as a “mobile moment” — and optimize accordingly. As there’s an increased investment in the service layer in the enterprise, data can move seamlessly, scale without interruption, and allow for reuse across applications. However, the service layer must be able to handle the increase of mobile users. Issues that could go unnoticed in your web architecture come into laser focus on mobile.
Final words of advice for the uninitiated
If you are a developer new to mobile projects, keep the following in mind:
- Get user feedback early and often.
- Make every decision with the touchscreen in mind.
- Never shift focus from the user to internal stakeholders.
- Expect setbacks before the first release ever hits the app store.
- Remember that the app is an ambassador for the company and your work.
Kobie Hatcher is a solutions director with AIM Consulting leading the mobile and digital experience practice. He has an extensive background in iOS and Android mobile applications. He has been involved with iOS since its original beta and produced one of the first featured apps for the App Store launch. Since then he has led the creation of eight different featured apps. He can be reached at khatcher AT aimconsulting dot com.