From a consumer standpoint, the rush to smartphones has taken off. Apple posted record revenues in October based on selling huge numbers of iPhones, while Android sales are accelerating and devices built with Windows Phone 7 are coming to the market.
People remember their flip-phones that promised Internet connectivity, but didn’t use a browser anyone had ever seen before, were impossible to navigate, and were expensive to use. Today, with applications optimized for the limited battery life of the devices, full browsers that people can understand, and touch technology that enables users to increase the size of the content within the screen so navigation is easier, customers have come to expect the same rich experience that they have on their desktops and laptops on their smartphones.
This “rush to mobile” is sweeping through the enterprise as well, even if the enterprise doesn’t fully understand the new form factors, or have a good strategy for moving their apps and website to the new platforms. It seems to be one of those phenomena where, since everyone else is doing it, we need to do it too, even if we’re not really sure why.
From the standpoint of an enterprise developer, though, it’s a time for learning new programming languages (“We’re a Windows shop but the boss wants an iPhone app”) and how to bring value to a smartphone app while maintaining reliance on back-end libraries and data stores. It’s a learn-as-you-go proposition for developers, who would prefer to have time to get up to speed on the new technologies but have to face (often unrealistic) demands for making the company’s assets mobile.
As such, it is incumbent upon an organization to create a mobile strategy—to understand the “why” of moving applications onto mobile devices—and then create something customers would actually want to use.
Two recent studies reveal a big gap between what consumers want from their smartphones and what organizations are currently delivering.
The first, by 1&1 Internet, found that only 50% of small- and medium-sized businesses check the appearance or functionality of their website for smartphone users. Of those that have, 43% admit their sites have a reduced appearance and reduced functionality. Further, 57% of these businesses have not optimized their websites for mobile use and have no plans to do so, according to the company.
On the mobile application side, a Harris Interactive survey reveals that 38% of mobile phone users are not satisfied with the mobile apps from their favorite retail brands. Anthony Franco, founder and CEO of design firm EffectiveUI, which commissioned the study, said this damages businesses more than they even know.
Thirteen percent of respondents to the survey said they have avoided downloading applications from a brand-name company or organization due to a previous bad experiences with another app offered by that brand. “When you launch a bad micro site, no one really notices or cares. When you launch a bad app, it haunts you forever. Users indicate they won’t ever download anything from that brand again. You alienate customers in perpetuity,” said Franco.
To take that a step further, 32% of respondents said they have told others about a bad experience with a mobile app. “Recommendations are the No. 1 reason to download” an app, he said. “Can your brand afford a two-star [rating] application or a one-star?”
Franco suggested three conversations an organization should have internally, from a brand perspective, before launching a mobile app. First, a company should have a mobile strategy. “Why are you building it in the first place,” said Franco of the first conversation organizations should have with themselves. “You should be methodical about the purpose.” If you do decide to go down that road, he said, make sure you’re building the application for mobile use cases only – not “dumbing down” a desktop application for the smartphone.
In the same vein, the application should be purposeful. Franco said the findings show that users want functionality from their mobile apps, so organizations writing applications for mobile use must think about those apps as a product, not simply a marketing campaign. “Consumers say the apps should do what we want. Not marketing, but they want to get things done. Marketing is about big ideas. Building a product is empathetic,” he said.
“A nutritionist, for example, should build a calorie counter, not necessarily a social site,” he added. “You want to port utility to these apps, not recreate your entire website.”
When the strategic issues are overcome, Franco said organizations should next consider the user experience and design of the application. “We’re talking about font size, clickability, user flow, things like that,” he said. “Seventy-four percent said the app should be easy to use.”
Noting that there are more than 300,000 applications available in app stores, Franco said that consumers now expect the companies they do business with to give them a good mobile experience.
David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.