Archive for February, 2010

Mobile Wars 1: Cross Platform Mobile

February 18, 2010

The world has gone mobile. Workers are logging-on to the corporate network through handheld devices and finalising business deals on the move. Everything – in short – is changing very quickly, but not as quickly as it could be.

 The explanation for such lethargy is a lack of standards. So, your firm has a great idea for a new business application? Great, but which platform do you want the application to run on?

 That probably sounds like a question of mixed priorities – surely it would be better to design the application first and then think about the operating system (or systems) you want to use? After all, business priorities – and user preferences – change as quickly as technology develops.

 Unfortunately, a lack of mobile development standards mean you will probably have to start your design with a decision on the operating system. If you want a mobile application, you have to write the code in different technologies for different operating systems on separate devices, such as for the Apple iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry, Java/Symbian and Windows-powered phones.

 In short, developers are expected to design once and write many, many times – a method of mobile development that is simply not viable. More to the point, the plethora of mobile standards is actually crazy.

 Only a fool would want to keep working on the same piece of software over and over again. Writing multiple versions of the same app is timely, costly and wasteful. It prevents business from moving on to the next idea; it prevents firms from being innovative.

 What your business needs is a method for development that creates standardisation and allows IT professionals to write an application once and then publish it many times for different operating systems. So, where is that alternative?

 Step forwards Rhomobile, an open-source Ruby-based mobile development framework for business software. Instead of relying on proprietary languages, Rhomobile’s Rhodes framework makes use of HTML. It take a Model driven Approach to development: write once in HTML and publish many times to individual platform standards.

 The result is portability and the encouragement of development across multiple mobile operating systems, from Google Android to Symbian. It is an approach that must be encouraged.

Writing once and publishing many times will help businesses to drive down costs and release applications at greater speed. The result will be quicker innovation that provides real business benefits for end-users.

 If you think the pace of change is fast now, wait until we’ve sorted out the mobile development standards.


Don’t Lose that Loving Feeling

February 8, 2010

All of a sudden, everyone everywhere is talking about customer experience – “use social media to build stronger customer relationships; find advocates that will help build your brand and reputation”.

 It’s as if a massive light switch marked ‘the customer is king’ has suddenly been discovered. But why the surprise, and why has it taken the combined forces of an economic downturn and a collaborative revolution to make so many firms realise the importance of the customer?

 The answer, quite simply, is that usability and the quality of the client experience has previously been taken for granted. And the web – despite its focus on collaboration – is one platform where the customer has often been left wanting more.

 For many people, a quality experience is all about the look and feel of a site. Whether it’s the business themselves or the individual client, a cool-looking site with sexy visuals can be an appealing proposition.

 Until, that is, download times are increased. Certain businesses are particularly guilty; many car manufacturers, for example, load their sites with dynamic content that forces the reader to sit and watch a ‘loading bar’ before entering the site.

 Car companies are not alone. Media businesses have spent years creating smart sites that include flashy graphics and content heavy visuals, only to forget one key element – most users come to a media site through Google. What the customer wants is news quickly, not slow-loading pages.

 Unfamiliarity – rather than familiarity – breeds contempt in the online world. There’s nothing worse than flicking between sites and being bamboozled by a new series of drop down menus. Go for familiarity across all sites; there’s a reason many successful sites look the same – it’s because they’re easy to use.

 At the same time, do not be put off designing nice-looking web pages. As you design the site, continually make sure the site is usable. It’s no good creating a high-technology portal that takes minutes to download and then requires the user to take a crash course in navigation.

 In this new age of interactivity, where the customer really is king, do not forget the basics – your customer will stay brand loyal on the web if your site is usable. Fail to take heed of this balance lesson and clients will soon lose their loving feeling for your brand.


RIM = Rich Internet Mobile ?

February 1, 2010

Designing and creating a site for mobile devices is now easy. Rather than relying on a separate and proprietary programming language, developers can create mobile sites using tried and tested technologies from the web.

 Be careful, though. Beyond the promised land of easy roll out lies the potential minefield of poor user experience. To this end, some element of self-restraint is required for companies creating mobile apps. What works on the web using a PC doesn’t automatically translate to the mobile.

 It can be easy to get carried away when designing mobile apps. There’s a temptation to add as many elements as possible, just to ensure all possible customer demands are covered. Reign in your expectations.

 Think of your own use of enterprise applications; how many functions do you actually use? When it comes to standard word processing and spreadsheet tools, do you actually use more than a dozen functions?

 Apply the same logic to your creation of mobile apps and avoid being too rich. Rather than trying to be all things to all users, hone the most important elements that will help ensure a strong customer experience.

 When you have a set of core functions, keep the display simple. Use a basic graphical user interface (GUI), steering clear of complex widgets and graphics.

 An over-complicated GUI – relying on the manipulation of multiple items – will be frustrating to use. It also is unlikely to suit the form and function of the mobile device.

 Keep in mind the limited screen real estate of modern mobile phones. Despite ongoing developments in rollable screen technology (which I blogged about last month), most mobile devices only provide a small display.

 If users only draw upon a limited amount of functionality in their enterprise apps, it’s extremely unlikely they’re going to want more items on a portable device. More to the point, they probably can’t.

 In addition to a limited screen estate, mobile phones are often restricted by their reliance on higher bandwidth. Move to a place with a limited connection and mobile apps can take a considerable amount of time to download or respond.

 With access speeds being so inconsistent, it simply does not make sense to load mobile applications with flashy graphics and interactive features.

 So, avoid being rich and keep you mobile software simple. Rather than overdressing your applications, find an approach that provides high usability. The reward will come in the form of a great customer experience.