Mobile apps must offer something different

Rob Borley
by
on 08 January 2013
EU Newsroom for iOS

EU Newsroom for iOS

At Dootrix we have recently been engaged in a consultancy exercise  for EURSIN who provide web and mobile communications services to the European Union in Brussels. Following our work with them they have now successfully developed and launched their News Room app for iOS.

During our discussions it became clear that four major themes in mobile app design needed to be considered.

Apps are not the web

It is important to understand that your mobile app should not simply replicate your website. Not only is this bad practice but it is increasingly leading to Apple rejecting apps from inclusion in their App Store.

12.3: Apps that are simply web clippings, content aggregators, or a collection of links, may be rejected.

This is not a new guideline but it is one that is being enforced more rigorously as Apple seek to maintain and improve the quality of the apps in the App Store. Like many of the guidelines that Apple provide this one is a little grey. We have found that a good rule of thumb is that your app should provide an experience that is significantly different from that of using Safari. This can be achieved by using native iOS functionality (other than push notifications) and providing a user interface that is significantly different from that of your website.

Experience

Providing the user with an appropriate experience for mobile is important. Navigating from screen to screen as you would on a website does not allow your app to add any real value to the user. Apps on a personal device are, by their very nature, an immersive experience. Users now expect them to behave in a certain way or, if a custom interface is used, for it to be intuitive, consistent, and significantly different from other experiences; including the web. Mixing design metaphors or even simply being inconsistent with the use of the standard transitions is jarring to a user and will put them off using your app.

The little things make a huge difference. Always use the same screen transition when moving forward through a collection of screens. And use a different one, consistently, when moving back. When leaving the context of the app, maybe to view an external web source, transition this differently again from all of the in-context transitions so that the user is prompted to expect that their experience is about to change.

Paper for iPad

Paper for iPad

Of course, you can use more dramatic metaphors in your design work. Examples such as Flipboard with its magazine layout, paper with its notebooks or the default photos app with its stacks of Polaroid’s all create a significantly different experience but for it to work well for a user it must be consistent so that they know what is coming next and intuitively know what they need to do.

Functionality

A mobile device is not simply another medium for your content. They are great for getting things done. An app on a mobile device should be for completing a task or achieving a goal. There are a few exceptions but this is a good general rule to check your thinking.

What is it that your app enables the user to do that they cannot do elsewhere or how can they now be more effective thanks to the tools that you have provided? If your app doesn’t allow your user to complete a task then you probably don’t need an app. Apps are for tasks. The web is for content.

Users need to be able to do something with your app that they cannot do with your website. Apple seem to be making the point more often that simply providing push notifications for your latest content is not enough to justify a place in the App Store. When designing functionality for your app you should be thinking in terms of what native functionality can be used. If you decide that you do not need any native functionality in your app then this is often a sign that you probably don’t need an app at all.

Consider the context

The key thing to remember with app design is that the users context is different to that of any medium that has gone before it. What they do, how they do it, and where they start and finish whatever it is they are doing are now very different. Mobile devices have changed user behaviour and expectations beyond recognition. It is important to consider this so that your tools and content can be presented in a relevant way.

If you want to discuss this or anything else raised in this article then please get in touch.

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