Mobile software is all around us. In the past we accessed the internet and our personal data mainly on our desk via a desktop computer, but now the focus is shifting more and more to mobile devices. When I am in the train, half the business people have their smartphone in their hand, the other half is fighting about the power plugs for charging their laptops.
But how does a mobile solution need to look like? First of all I think that there is a difference between applications for users who already worked with laptops and desktop computers and users who have no computer experience. A mobile CRM solution for a salesman who works with the SAP CRM WebUI in parallel needs to be different then a mobile asset management application for a service technician who has never touched a mouse or keyboard in his life.
The more experienced the user group is, the more complex and feature rich you can make your application. In general I think that simplicity is a key to success. Every feature that you can remove from the software makes it more user friendly. You will not have a great solution when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove!
While this is true for every software, it is especially true for mobile solutions. The screen size on smartphones, tablets, netbooks and even some laptops is limited. You need to carefully consider what you display in this limited area that you have.
I think it is also important to give the user the same look and feel that the target platform has. If an iPhone user is used to the iOS email client, the calendar and the address book, it is hard to sell him something that looks different. The same is valid for Android, Symbian and the Blackberry as well. If you cannot offer the same look and feel and the same behavior as the target platform, a large amount of users will reject the application.
I think we are at the beginning of a new era – the era of usability in which the users will not accept the same solutions anymore that we presented them two years ago. In their private life they are used to the iPhone, Android and the iPad, now they want the same usability in business as well! And I think they deserve it!
One problem we face in my opinion is that some platforms are not able to deliver what a user can expect. I am mainly referring to Windows Mobile. Companies like HTC try to completely hide the Windows Mobile user interface behind their own layer. I think this is a good approach that should be used for mobile business solutions as well.
To summarize this:
- Mobile Solutions should be as simple as possible
- Mobile Solutions should be built with the target user group in mind.
- They should come with the same UI pattern and behavior as the underlying operating system.
Because of these points I think that usability is the key to success for mobile solutions. I think we can take all the other things like stability, scalability, good performance, delta sync and offline capability for granted today – but usability is still a great challenge! SAP has done their homework by acquiring Sybase, now it is on us – the developers – to create apps that are user friendly and easy to use!