Welcome to the third post in a blog series on three concepts decision makers must understand for their own mobile application development. Our first post was an overview of the three decisions we’ll be diving into in this series. The second post focused on the audience and platform support for your mobile application development. In this post, we’ll cover form and interaction. Form and interaction is all about the devices and the way users expect to interact with those devices.
The Many Forms of Mobile Apps
Our mobile interaction and communication is quickly evolving. When someone says “mobile development,” the first thing that pops in your mind might be iOS development, Windows phone development, or Android development. Those are important, but most users don’t think in turns of operating systems but in terms of devices.
From a 50,000 foot view, we have three general categories that have emerged:
- Smartphones – 3-4.5 inch screen (iPhone, Droid, Samsung Galaxy S, etc.)
- Hybrids – 5-7” screen (Samsung Galaxy Note, rumored iPad mini)
- Tablets – 7.5-11” screen (iPad, Motorola Xoom)
The primary consideration when looking at these devices are screen size and buttons, both touch and physical buttons.
A mobile app that is being developed for maximum platform support and also maximum device support just greatly increased the scope of the project from a design perspective. But, you must also consider the functions, user environments, and behaviors of the app when crossing the different forms of mobile applications.
For example, if you are developing a B2C mobile application for the most reach, you are talking about supporting approximately three different device forms across three different platforms for a total of nine targets. And you thought browser compatibility was a tough decision!
Mobile Context and Behaviors
People prefer using certain mobile forms and software in different environments. Neilson recently completed a study in 2012 studying the use of tablets and smartphones. There are two important behaviors that come out of this study:
- Smartphones are used more for on-the-go information, especially those requiring a location component and replacing notes traditionally done on paper like shopping lists.
- Tablets are used more for research and online purchases.
This extends into the delivery of that information. More web surfing is done on tablets than on smartphones. Smartphones are much more likely to use an app than surf the web via a mobile browser. If you’ve done much surfing on a smartphone web browser, you can probably understand this natural preference.
Mobile Application Design
This is a large topic and will probably require a future post for more detail, but bears mentioning here. Since we are talking about such drastic differences in screen size, resolution, and usability, we have to consider the budget of the project. Most need to support many different types of mobile form with their interaction, especially in B2C public applications. This leads to different designs for each form that may contain different functionality. From an application lifecycle perspective, maintenance of all of those different mobile UIs could start to get overwhelming.
One technology strategy that makes this a bit easier if you’ve chosen an HTML5/CSS3 route is a concept called responsive design. In short, responsive design changes your UI dynamically to fit and work with the targeted screen sizes in one single solution. This greatly simplifies the management and maintenance of the application as you go forward.
Thinking about the intention of your app and the screen sizes of each of your supported devices can help you decide on the features and functions that make sense to support on each form or device. If you are trying to sell a product via your mobile application, it may make sense to think first about tablet users. If you are designing a mobile application to optimize some procedure or operation where the user is going somewhere, a smartphone will probably be used more often.
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