Thursday, March 6, 2008

Simplicity, will be key to success with Mobile Applications

These days there is a lot of buzz about the newest applications that are available or coming for the mobile phone. Hundreds of companies are getting venture funding for developing the next set of applications for the mobile device. Much of the focus here is on delivering fragmented applications that take the user away from the core phone use. Any application developed for the phone has to consider the core phone use and be designed specifically for the limitations of the device with respect to the form factor and usability. Fact is, typing on the small key board makes it more difficult for people to have to enter a lot of information or click through many levels of menus to get the information that they require. Applications need to keep power consumption in mind. As much as the battery life has improved, graphic intensive applications are draining them already. One of the fundamental issues that need to be accomplished is that the software for the mobile device has to be designed from the device out, not the desktop/internet in. It is not about having the internet on your phone. The application designed for a mobile device should allow access to all the information that a person normally wants at their fingertips, at the time that they want it, without having to search for it. Tie in location, and time and context and my mobile phone should do all the work for me. I don’t want coolness of an application to drain out the battery and keep forcing me to tether myself to a plug-point frequently.

On the other hand, the current crop of mobile social networking platforms do NOT enhance interpersonal communication or reduce the clutter of asynchronous communication. They only add more distraction and noise and completely drown out meaningful communication. Recently I have talked to some Myspace and Facebook users, who claim to have over 800 contacts. I probed further to note that the core group of people that they communicate with is very limited are listed on their mobile devices and after a while the interaction with all these contacts on facebook and myspace also gets limited. Now translate that to mobile. Would you really put up with more noise on your mobile device? Ask yourself if the unbounded network that mostly becomes irrelevant over time is what you really want to use the device for. Recently I saw an ad for Facebook on an iphone; Novelty YES. Usefulness ZERO. What personal value does that add to anyone’s daily routine, especially on the mobile device? Does having access to Facebook on your mobile device really enhance personal productivity? A “boredom-response” application does not enhance productivity.

Yahoo! also announced onePlace™ (to be released Q2 – 08) claiming that it brings together all your interests, passions and important information into a single location, creating a rich, highly personalized experience around it for you. What will that do to power consumption on the device if it has to constantly bring loads of data to your device?

Other mobile widget apps offer to take web based content from a variety of sources, restructure the data and then push so called customized content to the phone throughout the day. All they do is offer yet another fragmented application of force fitting the web based information infrastructure onto the mobile device. Relevance and context are once again left far behind.

It is very important to note that coolness of an application is not necessarily monetizable in the mobile world. Ability to provide value to the general user and designing with respect for the form-factor of the device is imperative. Connecting relevant people and the pertinent information behind them is what is needed. Successful applications for the mobile world will be those that keep it simple and relevant.

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