All Posts in Mobile

May 29, 2013 - No Comments!

Mobile App vs. Responsive Design: Ask These 10 Questions First

“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.)

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Example of RogerEbert.com responsive design.

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.

Advantage: Native

uberapp2) 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.

Advantage: Native

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.

Advantage: Native

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.

Advantage: Responsive

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.

Advantage: Native

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.

Advantage: Responsive

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.

Advantage: Responsive

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.

Advantage: Responsive

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.

Advantage: Responsive

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 mark@tablexi.com. 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.

May 23, 2013 - No Comments!

Top 5 Ways to Annoy Your App Users

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.

March 21, 2013 - No Comments!

Tech Tip: Make Your Mobile App POP

900We’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.

links

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.

March 20, 2013 - 1 comment.

Prepare for Baby with Sprout San Francisco Mobile App

After months of planning and anticipation, we're proud to announce the arrival of the free Sprout SF Baby Planner mobile app, designed to reduce some of the guesswork and stress associated with becoming a first-time parent.

Preparing for a new child can be an information-overload. No one knows this better than Sprout San Francisco, a natural and organic children’s boutique and online resource for parents. We worked closely with their team to develop and design an app that helps parents get in-depth information about all of Sprout’s products, find the items they want, then quickly and easily create a baby registry straight from their iPhones.

The Sprout app functions both as a mobile registry and a checklist, so parents can ensure they have everything they need for a new baby. The app is easy to use: Simply add products to a registry by selecting them directly in the app, or, if you’re shopping in the Sprout store, use the Scan feature by taking a photo of the product’s barcode.

Just like the Sprout website, every listing in the mobile app displays detailed product information so parents can make informed choices, and a “Get Educated” section lets parents learn more about organic products and access healthy baby guides.

Want to know more about the Sprout app? Watch the demo video below, then head to the App Store and download it for free!

November 9, 2012 - 1 comment.

Do it for drivers. Do it for startups.

Uber figured out a better way to do private car service by using your smartphone to call a car, calculate distance, and pay. Chicago's about to pass a law to say "Yeah, you can't do that here."

You can read more about it on Uber's Blog. If you're an Uber customer, or if you're interested in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in Chicago, you'll probably want to sign the petition, email the BACP email Commissioner Krimbel of the BACP and email Mayor Emanuel. And you'll want to hurry - the comment period for these proposed regulations ends today at 3pm.

Here's what I sent them:

I am troubled by the Measured Rates Provision (PPV Sec. 1.10) that would restrict Uber Black from operating in the Chicago market.

This provision is not written to benefit consumers, or the economy, but to protect the established limo driver industry. And yet, they may not see it, but Uber's innovation is beneficial for them too.

Uber has introduced private car service to tens of thousands of young consumers who previously considered it to be the proclivity of rich white bankers. Uber puts limo drivers to work and boosts demand for a dying industry.

Chicago is fighting to foster a community of innovation and entrepreneurship - to prove that we are just as good of a place to start a technology company as San Francisco, Boston, or New York. Uber is a prime example of the kind of company we are trying to attract - one using technology to disrupt an industry that has not innovated in decades.

This provision reinforces the stigma that Chicago's political system is more interested in protecting the status quo than fostering innovation, while at the same time, harming the industry it's trying to protect.

Uber's innovation is better for consumers, better for private car drivers, and better for a city struggling to attract startups. Don't let myopic protectionism hinder it.

Cheers,
Greg Baugues

June 20, 2012 - 4 comments

KID Mobile Gives Parents Peace of Mind

We’re proud to announce the new mobile site for our nonprofit partner, Kids In Danger (KID) an organization dedicated to improving children’s product safety. KID was founded in 1998 by the parents of sixteen-month-old Danny Keysar, who died when a portable crib collapsed around his neck. Though the crib had been recalled, many people weren’t aware and it and similar recalled products were still widely used.

To help put an end to tragedies like this, KID wanted to give parents an easy way to search the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) database of recalled products. We advised building a mobile website, and we joined forces with WeMakeItSafer to employ their Recalled Product Search application.

Now, with a fully functional site that’s accessible across all mobile devices, parents can quickly and easily search for recalled items wherever they are, whether it be a store, garage sale, or friend’s basement, and make informed decisions before acquiring new products for their kids.

At their recent annual Best Friend Awards presentation, KID highlighted this mobile site as one of their biggest triumphs of the year. “Working with Table XI put life saving tools in the hands of parents and caregivers,” said KID Executive Director Nancy Cowles. “They were able to take KID’s vision of the kinds of tools we wanted and add their own creative and technical skills to put out a valuable mobile site.”