What can mobile app development teams learn from a spinning top?

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The left image was found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, who died about 1323 BC. The two images on the right are contemporary, which means these tops were manufactured about 3300 years apart.

For many, it is hard to imagine a world when simpler, non-electronic, toys were the primary options for fun. How quickly we seem to forget!

IT and C-Level executives might be surprised to discover there are three business lessons that can still be learned from a simple toy like a spinning top.

Here are three for consideration:

Simplicity Can Increase Durability

Sometimes, the simplest concept can stand the test of time. Archeologists have found spinning tops that date back over five thousand years. And, here’s the most amazing stat: they still function today exactly as they did then. What about your mobile app? How will it stand the test of time? Is anyone taking bets that a cell phone, or any of its apps, will still be working five thousand years from now? How about one year from now?

Tipping Points

Without going into the physics of how a spinning top works, suffice it say that once a top is correctly spinning on a smooth surface, it will continue to do for as long as its’ spinning inertia can maintain a balance. Once inertia begins to slow, balance will falter, and the spinning top will revert back into being just an inert object. Eerily this description fits mobility software programs, too. Finding the right balance in software features and functions, without making it overloaded, may make the critical difference in the lifespan of the product. There are tipping points when all software programs stop being useful. And, an unused software app is another definition of an inert object. Have you identified your tipping points?

User Interfaces

A complex concept implies complex user interfaces. Plus, a complex concept has more points of failure than a simpler concept. A spinning top is an intuitive product. The very design of a top invites the user to give it a spin with a flick of the wrist. When users look at your mobile app, what is appealing and inviting about it? Is it intuitive or intimidating? Are users ready to give it a flick or a swipe to get started?

Final Thoughts

What are your best case hopes and aspirations for the life of your mobile app? A year? More than two years? More than five years?? Perhaps emulating the lessons learned from a spinning top will help produce positive influences on your mobile application projects. Aim high!

What to Include in a Mobility Software Style Guide

Several weeks ago, I wrote on this blog that mobile software development should be guided by the use of a style guide for consistency. Since then, I’ve received numerous inquiries asking for more details about the type of style elements that might be included in a guide document.

Here is a snapshot from my Table of Contents page:

ImageI am happy to provide my views; however, adding a complete style guide example here is impracticable due to space considerations. So, I’ve done the next best thing by posting a sample mobility software style guide document on my Linkedin Profile page, which can be downloaded for free for review:  www.linkedin.com/in/jerryhorne/

My example style guide document provides the basic elements that many companies might find to be practicable for setting standards for their mobile software development; however, your mobility software style guide might be completely different. And, that’s okay with me.

The important consideration is that one applies a consistent look and feel. As I noted on an earlier blog, companies with large, or, perhaps global, mobile development organizations face distance and communication challenges to provide custom software consistency.

A style guide is a simple tool to help bridge one’s gaps.

What kind of animal is your mobile app?

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Lately, I’ve noticed that there are definite similarities between some mobile app types and animals. Allow me to elaborate on an obvious few:

Snail apps

As the name implies, this app, while potentially solidly constructed, is s-l-o-w to interact. One tries to perform a simple action and it takes “forever” to react. One seems to be constantly waiting. In today’s instant gratification world, anything that takes more than a few seconds to react is like the proverbial saying: as fast as molasses flowing uphill in January. Burrr!

Cheetah apps

This app is the exact opposite of a snail app. How well it is constructed is secondary to how fast it reacts. So while it is fast, there may be other issues to contend with. One pet peeve for many is the auto-correcting spelling feature that attempts to override what one has keyed. If you’re not paying attention all the time, the cheetah app may create “interesting” and unexpected results. They may work fast; but, one may have to be wary that it doesn’t bite back.

Chameleon apps

This breed of app is one that promises one thing and delivers another. Have you downloaded apps from an apps store where the description and image don’t match-up to the actual product? You can be the judge if this is false advertising. Some have suggested that apps that offer “free” trials for a period of time might be considered borderline chameleon apps – especially if one has to register a credit card somewhere. Is the app providing a business service or is it an excuse to provide an income stream for the developer. Of course, I fully embrace paying for services when appropriate; but, I prefer to know intentions for that upfront. Let the buyer beware.

Elephant apps

No doubt, this app is solidly constructed. Reliable interaction is evident all the time. Not exactly a snail, but, certainly not a cheetah either. Sturdy and steady would be accurate adjectives. However, plodding and bloated may also apply! Little elephants can grow-up to become larger elephants over time. They are still elephants, never the less. Elephants tend to take up lots of space.

Snake apps

Apologies to snake lovers, but, snake apps, in my opinion, are the worst apps possible. These apps may never be intended to do anything but to prey on naïve users. Apps where one has to register credit card or enter personal information before any initial usage may be playing right into the hands of someone phishing to steal one’s identity. Be careful with this app as looks can be deceiving. Don’t be fooled, as there are snakes in the Internet grass!

If your company has developed mobile apps, which animal would they most likely align with?

I am sure there are other app / animal categories possible. What are your favorite suggestions?

Two Ways To Prioritize Mobile Software Development Needs

Okay, your company has strategies in place for MDM and MAM. Now what? How do you prioritize your mobile software development projects?

The best way to start a prioritization process is to examine two critical issues: (1) audience impact and (2) economic impact to your business. Let’s examine each in turn:

The broader the intended audience, the more likely the application will be immediately successful. A good place to start is with your internal audience – your employees! For example, if your HR department has determined that every employee needs to have sexual harassment training, then the app becomes a mandatory requirement. Everyone within the company needs this training regardless of job description. Next, stop and ask these delivery questions: is the best choice for this specific app development to be geared for individual training or for classroom training; can it best viewed via a mobile device, desktop, or large monitor projection; should the style be interactive or lecture; and, finally, do you have remote users that can’t be easily reached or is everyone in your office location? The answers will help point you in the right direction for your company.

Economic impact implies that the use of an app may result in some type of financial gain. If, for example, you discover that purchase order requisitions are not being approved in a time manner because of executive travels and there is a back log of orders, then there is a definite issue that potentially impacts your bottom line. It may make sense to build a mobile app for traveling executives who can approve orders from anywhere. This app may be geared for on a chosen few within the company, but the financial impact may be very serious for the financial health of everyone at your company.

Audience Matters – Five Steps To Consider

Planning an enterprise mobile software application can be daunting to the uninitiated. There are, however, a few planning tips that may help.

Suppose, for this example, that the proposed mobile application is to be related to mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees.

First, step back and clearly identify the intended audience. Do you need app versions to support more than one language? Do you need to support non-literate participation? Do you need to support special needs staffing? Establishing corporate goals based on the answers to these questions will help one to build a consistent, repeatable, computer-based system, with measurable analytics.

Second, with established corporate goals, one can start the program analysis to define the components that should be developed, managed, and, later, archived. If one of the design components is to utilize video clip examples of good behavior versus bad behavior, then scripting, filming, editing, and converting the video into a usable format is near the top of your to-do list. Over dubbing additional sound tracks may provide other language support and closed captions may address those audience concerns. The video presentations probably will need to be placed into a mobile software presentation framework that can easily provide a high quality user navigation experience.

Third, with measurement goals in mind, one can establish a series of questions and answers that the users must successfully complete to demonstrate their participation. Computer-based training is straight forward programming in concept; however, crafting meaningful questions should require the assistance of HR or legal professionals.

Fourth, management of participant records may be critical to remain in compliance with local, state, and federal guidelines for sexual harassment. Your HR or legal affairs staff can provide guidance as to what is required for your location. Sign-ins and unique identifiers are common software techniques to track who has successfully used the mobile app. Is one of the program design criteria to send a reminder to individuals who have not completed the required training? Does your company require periodic refresher courses with email reminders in the future? Will your app need an email interface? Will your app need a separate data base? How long will your organization keep the participation records? Five years? Seven years? Forever?

Fifth, having integrated analysis tools that can provide contextual information may be critical to the success of this example app. Executive dashboards are a highly recommended technique to provide instantaneous feedback on the use of mobile applications. At-a-glance screens with graphs and charts can provide real-time meaningful analysis. Of course, what should be included in the dashboard must be part of the initial design concept in step two.