Real Time Communications Featured Article

Making Mobile Apps More User Friendly

February 19, 2015

While I love my Android smartphone, I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to mobile apps.  Too many people and businesses slap together an app so they can say they have a "mobile solution" without taking the time to make it user friendly and generally useful. I freely confess that I roll my eyes when I go to a conference and am asked to download the official app to keep track of what is going on. Once the event is over, I delete the app off my phone, because I'm never going to use it again.  Good mobile apps need to be easy to use, engaging, and offer some unique functionality over a simple web page.

App development should start with a "draft" prototype app and a test set of core users. Developers need to lay out what information and interaction needs to be presented and delivered to the people who will use the app.  What is obvious to a developer may not be obvious to me, my elementary school daughter, or my mother -- odds are that my daughter might figure out how an app works by playing with it through trial and error, while older people will get fed up with complexity and move on rather quickly.

Mobile apps that don't get used or require training to access features are a failure -- the time spent in training and instruction is money spent to compensate for poor design.

Image via Shutterstock.

The target user should be able to figure out how the app works intuitively, without any instruction or documentation other than "tap on the icon."  Developers should be taking notes and preferably recording app use as it is  Once the test set of users have worked with the app trying to accomplish key tasks, the development team can go back to the figurative drawing board to make changes for refining the app.

Real time communications (RTC) and WebRTC can play a key role in developing and making mobile apps more user friendly.   Dropping in voice, video, IM, presence, and integrated screen sharing into a mobile app using WebRTC is only a few lines of code, with most WebRTC services providing plenty of example code to support their APIs and SDKs.  

Using starter code as a part of a prototype enables developers and test users to work with RTC components within the framework of the mobile app.  The basic user interface can be fine tuned based upon user feedback and designer observations. During the development process, WebRTC screen sharing can enable developers to watch how test users work with a mobile applications user interface. 

But I can't emphasize enough that one of the major keys to developing a successful mobile app is, as mentioned above, draft (a prototype app), test (with target users), refine (take feedback and observations to rework app) and repeat (the cycle).  If developers haven't conducted at least two or three cycles of prototype testing before moving an app to production, there's something wrong -- nobody gets everything right on the first code cut, even if it is just adjusting fonts or adjusting the size of function buttons. 

Smarter developers will go one step further, providing an easy way to provide user feedback for items such as improving the interface, adding features and even deleting them.  Just because developers can add the kitchen sink with WebRTC features doesn't  mean they should.  A good design team should be able to add the "just right" amount of RTC to add functionality and ease of use without cluttering the app and making it confusing.   Not every app needs the full array of RTC services, but may only need one or two pieces in order to be successful.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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