Designing for mobility: a different game

Last week I attended a pizza sesion at the office. Collegues visited Convergence in Barcelona last fall and gaave an internal presentation about the things they learned. As all of you know “Cloud First, Mobility First” is the new mantra at Microsoft.

As a company we are making the shift towards a cloud based world. A growing number of our customers is running on (or intend to migrate to) the online version of Dynamics CRM. One of the speakers at the pizza session told we should develop a strategy for mobility as well. I think he’s right, we should develop a strategy!

… The world is becoming more and more a mobile world.

A different game

Designing for mobility is a total different game than designing for the web. In this article I will explain why.

When looking at internet applications we try to cram as much information as possible on screen. We show all sorts of detail information and sub grids in order to make our users as happy as possible. The mantra for web development has always been: “Do as much as possible with the minimum number of mouse clicks. Information should be two or less clicks away”. I promise you, this strategy won’t work for mobile devices.

Back in the days

When I started with mobile application development Palm Inc. ruled the world. One of its founders – Jeff Hawkings – designed the first Palm Pilot in a way that it could compete with an oldskool agenda in terms of registering data; once written down the information was stored automatically. He stripped down the user interface to a bare minimum, focussing on the information and the process of registering it. The so called “Zen of Palm”. I got intrigued by it and until the day of today I still design my applications by this “Zen” philosophy.

In those days, the hardware was very limited: low resolution display, weak CPU, shortage of memory, primitive development tools, poor communication facilities. In order to give the users the best experience possible, we had to design our applications with all these shortcomings in mind. This resulted in applications which were very efficient and very simple to use.

What about now?

Nowadays mobile devices have become real powerhouses with specs we couldn’t dream of. Unfortunatelly with so much raw power, people lost the urge to optimize. This results in applications which are very powerful and sophisticated, hence not very intuitive. * ouch *

Considerations

We should keep in mind that our mobile xRM applications are going to be used by people on to go. Applications need to be intuitive. The data to do the job should be at your fingertips. Functionality has to be optimized for one handed operation while on the go. So should be the data. In case you don’t know what hardware is available, you should design for a very small screen (e.g. optimize the application for a 480×800 pixel resolution).

Design energy efficient applications, keep in mind that animations or calculations consume a lot of processing power. Go for the maximization of battery life (in the end of the day that will make your users happy).

Furthermore, mobile applications should be able to work offline as data communication is not always possible (think of field service engineers working somewhere in the basement of a building). If you work with a browser based application you might be in trouble in these cases. Don’t forget data communication has a serious impact on battery life. Think of a smart strategy to reduce communications to a minimum.

When you design an application with all these thoughts in mind, you will end up with the tailored application for your user. Allowing him to serve his customers with the optimal tooling for the moment.

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