All Posts in Mobile
We’re experts at mobile development technologies, but the definition of “mobile” changes constantly. Because mobile usage is growing so fast and there are new tools and frameworks for building mobile apps every week, we have to be constantly finding, testing and adopting new skills and tools just to keep up.
That’s why we’ve made learning and teaching an important part of how we operate as a team.
I’ve written before about how much the tools and processes for our mobile team changed in the four years we’ve been around, but the truth is that they’re still changing. There are new tools and design patterns for structuring apps coming out all the time, a lot of which we want to try out. In the past year, we took React Native (a new cross-platform framework by Facebook) for a spin and really liked where it was going. Keeping up with what’s out there lets us give our partners the latest and greatest, and to do that efficiently we need everyone on our team to be looking out for cool things they want to bring to the group for testing.
React Native checks all our clients’ boxes. It promises to save developers time and clients money. It promises to make training developers easier. And most importantly, it promises to create both iOS and Android apps from one set of code. It’s no surprise then that React Native is growing fast. But at Table XI, we’ve seen a lot of cross platform solutions with big promises. And while we love new tools, we tend to be cautious of the risks.
That’s why we’ve been testing React Native.
Natural and organic children’s boutique Sprout San Francisco, with five locations in California, Illinois and New York and an online store carrying non-toxic and eco-friendly baby gear from rattles to cribs.
In 2012, Sprout became the first client for Table XI’s mobile practice when founder and CEO Suzanne Price reached out to see what kind of app might benefit her business. Since a full 25 percent of Sprout’s sales come from its registry business, we worked together to design a registry app that would help new parents pick out all the kit that comes along with having a kid. After four years and a backend change to the webstore, the app was ready for a total overhaul.
Over the years we’ve developed mobile apps that make it easy for businesses to manage their resources, teams, products, and customer experiences. We’ve helped make it easy for consumers to buy study guides, purchase tickets, and even order groceries through their phones. We've also developed a mobile application to generate content for an organization that wanted to incorporate user video testimonials into their website.
Simply put: if you’ve got an idea, Table XI has the team to build it.
On the train? Working remotely? Now you can take your Discourse conversations on the go.
We use the online discussion platform Discourse for communicating about a lot of internal topics. It’s a well-designed, modern forum, message board, and chat room, all in one, and we find it a valuable companion to email as a tool for gathering and disseminating information. But workdays get busy and people don’t always have time to use it. Instead, a lot of us wanted to be able to check in on Discourse and participate in its conversations during our commutes. When we realized there wasn’t a mobile app, we decided to build one.
We just launched the new Facing Disability mobile application under the design leadership of Ed Lafoy, our resident iOS wizard. This new app allows anyone to create and upload videos to Facing Disability's website.
Facing Disability is a nonprofit organization supporting and connecting individuals suffering with spinal cord injuries. The site aggregates more than 1,000 videos and shares answers to common questions about coping with spinal cord injuries. The videos are highly curated, edited, and are the culmination of more than a year of interviews.
The new mobile app makes it possible for even more people to contribute their voices and perspectives to FacingDisability.com. Now members can securely contribute videos anytime, anywhere, and enjoy a new flexibility and accessibility that’s particularly important to the Facing Disability community.
“Do I need a responsive website or a native mobile app for my business?”
We’re getting this question a lot these days.
Let’s back up. For those unfamiliar, “responsive design” refers to a design approach aimed at providing optimal viewing, reading, and navigation experiences on any size device, from desktop computer to mobile phone. Mashable called 2013 the year of responsive web design. We couldn’t agree more.
Even if you have a mobile app, your website should use responsive design to ensure that anyone visiting your site via mobile phones and tablets will have a good user experience. After all, despite the fact that you may have a beautiful app, a segment of your target audience will still visit your website from their phone's browser. And remember, just because you have an app, it doesn't mean it will be downloaded and used. (Just ask the makers of the thousands of undownloaded “zombie” apps about the competition out there.)
That said, there are times when having a mobile-optimized site and a native app makes great business sense. Wondering if this is you? Consider these 10 questions, which could help guide you to the answer.
1) Will your native mobile app take advantage of smart phone functionality?
Do you need to use the camera, GPS, scan feature, or other phone functions? If you intend to provide unique functionality or content not available on the mobile web, then an app is likely the way to go. When Sprout San Francisco came to us wanting to build a mobile app, we knew that we could provide a useful tool to soon-to-be parents by incorporating the scanning function into the app. This allows parents to easily create registries on-the-go straight from their phones, something they couldn’t do through a responsive design website.
2) Is personalization important?
One of the great features in a mobile app is the ability to craft personalized experiences for the device with fewer limitations. Since a native mobile application is always tied directly to a user’s device, it creates many more opportunities to target and craft the user experience. For example, within a native app a user can create and save a profile, which allows them to customize their interactions. UBER has an excellent native application which lets users scan and remember credit card details, making future purchases quick and simple.
3) Do you have complex design and UI?
At a certain level of complexity, HTML5 (responsive web) may not work to achieve your goals. HTML5 can indeed deliver customized user experiences, but native apps tend to provide the most tailored UX. Because responsive designs need to adapt to all possible environments, designers have to make compromises to find a solution that works in all scenarios, browsers, and screen sizes. Conversely, a native mobile application is a targeted experience and can take full advantage of the interaction expectations of the user and their device. Web apps still have a lot of room to grow (see forecast.io, for instance), and while they’ll eventually get close to native apps in feel and function, they can’t match them—yet.
4) Do you have a limited budget?
Generally speaking, responsive design is a less costly undertaking because it’s quicker to develop and deploy than native applications, typically requires fewer dedicated resources to bring an idea to market, and only needs one code base to ensure it works across all devices. That said, ideally, ROI justifies development costs. If mobile transactions and in-app purchases represent a significant portion of potential revenue, investing in app development could be the smart decision. But if you can’t afford the spend immediately, start with a responsive website and add the native app as part of a future iteration.
5) Are you trying to monetize content and encourage purchasing?
If you have a product that offers potential for ongoing micro-purchases, then a native application is the way to go. A shopping cart on your website can facilitate this, but the in-app purchasing system is so simple and tied into all the rest of a user’s purchases on the platform that it is second to none.
6) Is SEO an important consideration?
If part of your strategy is to increase visibility among search engines and drive traffic to your site, then stick with a responsive mobile website. Apps are closed environments and cannot be crawled by search engines—they won’t impact your organic search ranking.
7) Will you have difficulty getting App Store approval?
Apple asks developers to follow stringent guidelines when submitting to the App Store, and the approval process can take anywhere from a week to several months. There are certain areas that are regulated more strictly than others, such as in-app purchases and in-app subscriptions.
Moreover, other kinds of features easily achieved through HTML5 are banned in native iOS applications. For example, Apple regulations forbid iOS applications that take donations, a fairly commonplace transaction in responsive web designs. This is a serious drawback for nonprofits looking to reach potential customers and donors through mobile apps.
8) Are you sending and receiving massive amounts of data?
An app will generally work faster than a responsive website since it doesn’t rely as heavily on Internet and network speed to serve up information. However, responsive websites may be closing the gap—a recent article in Ars Technica discusses the ways that developers are trying to "speed up the web" to compare with native speeds.
Advantage: Native (for now)
9) Do you plan to make frequent updates?
Native applications make frequent updates rather painful. First, application updates need to go through the same lengthy approval process in the App Store. Next, native applications require consumers to manually download the updates before they can be used. If you expect to have frequent design updates, a responsive design may be the simplest way to ensure your users are accessing the most recent version.
10) Are you trying to create something that’s universally accessible?
If you want to appeal to everyone across multiple platforms and devices, responsive is the answer. It’s faster and easier to get your product in people’s hands, and it’s fairly straightforward to build a mobile-specific menu that gives mobile users what they need. Native apps, on the other hand, must be uniquely designed for Android, iOS, Blackberry Mobile, and Windows Phone 8, and present compatibility concerns for businesses that don't want to segment their user base.
So there you have it: 10 questions to help guide your decision-making process. Granted, these aren’t hard and fast rules, but thinking about these factors can get you started. Still stuck? Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or comments. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you do decide to build a native mobile app, make sure you’re familiar with the 5 mistakes to avoid when developing an app and the 5 things that annoy app users.
Special thanks to Table XI’s mobile development team for their contributions to this article: Ed Lafoy, Kate Garmey, Jon Buda, and Mike Gibson.
Mobile apps are all the rage these days, but it's easy to create something that just leaves your customers raging. Make sure your app isn't guilty of these sins that drive users nuts:
1. Forced registration. Unless you’re a service I trust and I’m accustomed to using, why do you make me register before I know what I’m getting into? Getting a download is hard enough. Don’t raise the bar even higher by forcing another action before a user can interact with—and find value in—your app.
2. Complicated navigation. Part of the advantage of using an app (versus a mobile site) is the ability to deliver targeted content at the touch of an icon. While we recommend everyone adhere to the “Three Click Rule” of usability, it’s even better if you can deliver in one or two. And it’s just as important to give your users an easy way to navigate back to previous pages—no one likes getting lost three pages deep.
3. Preference amnesia. Now that we’re a population of app-savvy users, our expectations have changed. If I’ve entered information about myself and my preferences, I expect my app to be “smart” about it. Leverage the data I’ve provided before to serve up relevant recommendations or information.
4. Long forms. Nothing is more annoying than trying to pick through registration forms with your thumbs. Limit forms to the minimum fields required, and use shorter alternatives where possible, such as a ZIP code instead of city and state. Wherever possible display default values, like today’s date or nearby locations.
5. Ratings prompts. Once is understandable (if tastefully done), twice is annoying, three times is desperate. Don’t constantly ask me to rate your app—it’s getting in the way of enjoying your app.
For more on mobile app best practices, check out Mashable for my 5 Mistakes to Avoid when Creating Branded Apps.
We’re always on the hunt for new technologies that will improve the process of developing and designing mobile apps for our clients. Recently we stumbled upon a great little app called POP—short for “Prototyping on Paper”—that animates your wireframes.
Normally, during our inception process with a client, we (the client included) break apart into groups to hash out what we think each chunk of the product will do, as well as what it will look like. Typically we use giant, 2 x 2.5 ft. sticky notes and a Sharpie to draw up basic wireframes. This serves us well since it allows us to brainstorm separately and then reconvene to talk through our thought process and ideas. But sometimes it can get complicated to try to show the flow of an app—i.e., where buttons will link to—using only pen and paper.
POP solves this. Take photos of your wireframes, then link your sketches together with “link spots” to create an interactive, automated storyboard. Designers and clients alike can then get a more accurate simulation of your app prototype’s user interface and flow. You can do this directly on your iPhone, or use Airplay and an Apple TV to project the prototype for a group.
As a bonus, POP also lets you share your prototype—it’s viewable on iPhones, iPads, and web browsers—so it’s easy to send off to others who may need to weigh in on your design.
This app is obviously helpful for developers, but we encourage our clients and other non-devs to check it out, too. If you’re looking to build a mobile app for your business and have thoughts about what it could look like or how it might work, POP is a great, user-friendly way to convey your ideas.
Plus, the kids love it.
© 2016 TABLE XI PARTNERS LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED