I’ve designed several websites, am in the process of designing an iPhone application, and in the brainstorming stage for an iPad app. In doing so, I’ve uncovered some principles to guide feature planning, UI design, and business models for each of these very different platforms.
A lot of companies jumping into these mobile and iPad apps are making key mistakes that create a poor user experience and fail to exploit the strengths of each media, as well as the business opportunities presented from the combined platforms.
Not Duplicate Applications–Complementary Ones
To date, many iPhone applications for businesses with existing websites have attempted to reproduce their website or its functionality on the iPhone. It’s likely that many of the first iPad applications will be similar attempts. As my husband so astutely pointed out, rather than creating similar products on each device, companies need to create complementary products for the different platforms.
When deciding on the feature set for each application, consider the context in which people will use it, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the different hardware. Then, pick the features that make sense for each device, and focus on them.
iPhone: Only the Most Common & Critical Tasks
Smartphone users are probably out and about, engaged in activities, and likely to be interrupted or have only short periods to focus. People pull out their phones while waiting in line, waiting to be served at a restaurant, etc. They only have a little time to use an application before reengaging in the “real world.” They may be out actively shopping, dining, or looking for a place to shop or dine. While we use our phones at home, as well, for the most part users have a goal and they are looking to your application to help them now, quickly, in their real-world activity.
- The most common and critical tasks for mobile users
- Designing tasks/games that can be accomplished in a short duration: three minutes or less
- Designing with the assumption of interruptions, and handling them well
- Providing only the information users are most likely to need in this context to complete their task (the form factor is relevant here)
iPad: Consumptive and Collaborative Features
The iPad is mainly a consumption tool. Users are most likely hanging out at home, at a friend’s, or in some other environment. They probably have more time to give, and have chosen to pull out their iPad for a while, probably at least twenty minutes. Users are looking to be entertained, are doing research, or possibly collaborating or using the machine to do an online task appropriate to the iPad. i.e., tasks that don’t require a lot of typing, copying and pasting, graphics work, etc.
- Tasks that involve reading, watching, and listening
- Tasks/games that can be completed in less than thirty minutes; users might have longer, but don’t count on it
- Activities that bring people together: the iPad can easily be viewed by two people at once, opening the door for tasks or entertainment that involves more than one person watching, or even taking turns with the iPad
- Continue to assume interruptions, and handle them well
- Provide information users need to complete their tasks and take advantage of the ability to drill-down, surf, and move back and forth between screens or views
Web: The Kitchen Sink
Web users are sitting down at their computer and you can expect them to be engaged for a while. They may be looking for entertainment, or to get some serious work done. They expect a full feature set and are more likely to be switching between applications/sites. They also will be willing and able to type more.
- Tasks that involve typing, copying and pasting, and working with multiple apps, as well as more consumption-oriented tasks
- Continuous activities–these users may have your app running in the background and go back to it multiple times over the course of hours
- Productive or process-heavy tasks. While people will use their computers to watch videos, etc., in large part they are doing work on their computer, or using it to do some serious gaming
- Interruptions are no longer a major factor
- Throw in the kitchen sink–while you have to design your site for usability, you need to have all the features available to web users. Mobile and even iPad users will probably accept a streamlined feature set. Web users expect it all.
Those are some the of the principles I’ve discovered for deciding what range of features to include. Don’t forget to check out my follow-up posts:
In the meantime, have I missed anything? What would you add?
Neicole Crepeau is a tech industry veteran of 27 years, and has worked in marketing, design, and technical writing. She tweets and blogs about social media, web technology, and user experience under @neicolec and Coherent Social Media. She does social media consulting and user experience design at Coherent Interactive.
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