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Small does not equate with simple in mobile apps

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The case for developing mobile apps is clear cut. However, the route to successfully developing and maintaining an app is less clear because of hidden complexities that are masked by the misconception that apps are small and therefore simple, says Mornay Leander, user experience consultant at ThoughtWorks.
Mobile apps may appear simple – given their relatively small size and ease of use – but they demand as much planning and commitment of resources as their non-mobile counterparts. In fact, according to Gartner, the demand for mobile app development resources is expected to outstrip organisations’ development capacity by 5:1 within the next two years.
While this points to the growing demand for apps there is equally a cautionary tale in the journey to the completed app.
The first point of caution is that this journey is never truly ‘completed’. Operating system updates and improvements alone dictate that apps need to be refreshed and rejigged to ensure they still run and display correctly. Add to this the release of new app features and functionality and it is easy to grasp the reality that a mobile app is not a ‘release-once and move on’ scenario.
This consideration is often overlooked by organisations in their rush to climb aboard the mobile app bandwagon, and one that could have serious implications further down the road. One consequence could be the lack of budget to apply updates and new features, which in turn could lead to user dissatisfaction.
What this points to is the need to have executive level buy-in to the app development process and the acceptance that it is not a once-off cost.
With this level of buy-in to the process, it is also easier to identify upfront the purpose and objectives of the app. Without a clearly defined user and business value proposition, the question has to be asked: do we really need this? Is there an easier way to achieve the same results?
A mobi site, and even USSD, can often achieve the same results with far less expense. Naturally, the audience has to borne in mind and despite the rise of smartphone penetration in South Africa, a simple and proven technology such as USSD might be a better solution if a company’s consumers fall into that demographic.
Another mistake that companies often make is simply replicating the functionality or processes they apply on their desktop website.
Apart from the much smaller mobile display screen presenting usability challenges, the technology and features in higher end smartphones also open up new ways that improve the user experience. Apple’s force touch and taptic engine are examples of how navigation and interaction may well soon dominate the user interface.
For this reason, it is critical that user interface and experience designers form part of the core development team from the start of the development process.
It is far easier, and cheaper, to tackle the look, feel and functionality upfront rather than trying to fit what may be a square peg into a round hole later in the process.
What these insights demonstrate is that the mobile app process is as intensive and crucial for success as any other piece of coding. A lot of heartache can be spared by recognising this before the process kicks and making sure that the project has clear executive buy-in, a value proposition and goals.