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The Mobile App Development Differentiator: User Experience – Part 1

The delineation between great mobile apps and bad ones is becoming easier and easier to see

The delineation between great mobile apps and bad ones is becoming easier and easier to see as the mobile app ecosystem edges closer and closer to maturity.  What makes a great mobile app? Simply put, it's a great experience for the user. The best apps in the current marketplace are those that can engage the user beyond a mere day or two, and become the go-to destination on their smartphones for an extended period of time. In this two part post, I will discuss a real life case of how a great user experience leads to app success and explain the steps that developers can follow to enhance their own apps' user experience.

For developers, extended use of an app is the holy grail. Whereas mobile app discovery poses an enormous challenge - one that developers are still struggling to overcome - it's really only half the battle. If a developer can not only get the user to download their apps, but keep them on the phone, they're cultivating a loyal audience that is more likely to pay attention to future apps that they deliver.

Let's take one of my favorite iPad apps, Flipboard, the intuitive social aggregation app that was named one of Time's "50 Best Inventions of 2010," and is so popular that some estimates indicate that one in ten iPads has it installed. But why?  What makes the app so special in the first place? User experience. A focus on the things that were essential to the user, including:

  1. A simple concept that meets a real desire for a more personalized social media experience
  2. An easy-to-use interface that makes collecting and organizing social updates painless and intuitive
  3. A visually attractive design

By adhering to only the components that they knew would provide value to the user, Flipboard ensured that their app was not just downloaded, but enjoyed a shelf life on users' devices far beyond that of the typical app.

The Flipboard example presents a perfect case study of how, by focusing on user experience above all else, developers can make their apps more essential to users.

Focusing on user experience when developing an app does not only apply for those consumer-driven apps like Words with Friends and Evernote.  A great user experience is also vital when creating applications geared towards the enterprise.

To find a key "customer" for an enterprise app, you don't have to look too far outside your office door - your internal employees are these primary targets.  Whether your company wants to build an app that allows all employees to bill their hours remotely or an app for each specific department to allow them to perform their jobs more effectively while on the road, user experience is just as important when catering to this internal audience as it is when you're focused on driving app adoption by your customers.

When developing an app for employees, more often than not, a primary goal is to improve efficiency. Just as a consumer-facing app must have a simple concept, an easy-to-use interface and a visually attractive design, so should an employee-focused app. The employee needs to be able to easily understand how the app works and how it can benefit them so they can adapt and adopt quickly, ultimately improving productivity.

Enterprise apps also often seek to improve customer engagement and drive sales, so a killer user experience is vital.  Let's consider a pharmaceutical sales rep.  If this person has a mobile app that offers easy access to product information, then he will be able to better serve clients and engage prospective doctors.  It is no secret that time in a doctor's office is precious for a pharma rep, so just think of how an interesting mobile app, on a cool, new iPad no less, could extend that rep's time with the doctor.  In this highly competitive space, these extra few minutes are priceless.

In the second half of this post, I will discuss some ways that developers can focus early in the development process in not only attracting, but maintaining the users who download their apps.

More Stories By Marcio Cyrillo

Marcio Cyrillo is head of mobile services and senior business manager at Ci&T, a technology outsourcing and software product engineering company. With Ci&T since 1999, he focuses on interactive services and mobile development in his current position. He also is a member of the Ci&T Entrepreneurship Program, from which he launched the program’s first mobile app, runens, earlier this year. As a result of his success developing runens, Cyrillo now serves as a mentor to Brazil-based Ipanema Games, a mobile gaming start-up. He holds a PhD in applied physics from Universidade Estadual de Campinas and two MBAs in sales management and entrepreneurship from Fundacao Getulio Vargas and Babson College.