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Mobile is not a new topic. I worked on my first mobile project at SAP about ten years ago (anyone still remembers CRM Mobile Sales 2.0B?) Back then, mobile was all about providing solutions for asset management workers, service technicians and sales people; and the solutions ran either on a windows laptop or a ruggedized device.

So, what is different about mobility today, compared to 10 years ago, that is making it a hot topic for both consumers and enterprises? Is it just because the number of devices has been growing so dramatically that pretty soon we will have more smartphones than people on our planet? Or is it something more?

Let’s take a closer look at how mobile devices evolved: I still remember the user experience of SAP’s CRM Mobile Sales 2.0B on my IBM laptop. The laptop itself was heavy and had a low resolution screen – 640 X 480 at most. It took minutes to start up the laptop and even more minutes to get the application up and running.  Today?  I push the home button on my iPad and it is on, instantly. Another three seconds and the application is up and running. The device is light (just 650 grams for the iPad3) and I can create sales orders very easily – with just two fingers while talking with my client.

Now, think about the change in mobile device technology, and how that has impacted the user experience. Ten years ago, mobile phones were used for what they had been developed for – making phone calls. Now, we use them for nearly everything: email, chat, games, business applications – and sometimes, phone calls. This is a tremendous change in user experience.  And user experience is more than just designing a nice, cool user interface – that’s just a piece of it.

Today, a great user experience is a combination of great design, ease of use, speed, simplicity and richness of functionality. Modern devices offer great built-in capabilities like multi-touch, GPS, high-resolution cameras and 3-axis accelerometers. Leveraging these capabilities in a mobile enterprise application can significantly simplify the user experience. But, be careful with simplicity. Sometimes we

make the mistake of viewing a great user experience solely through the lens of simplicity. Take the iPad as an example– equipped with just four physical switches it gives us all we need. But look at the richness of mobile apps people have on their device, and the thousands of apps you can download from app stores. It’s the usage that needs to be simple, but, the offering behind it needs to be rich.

As enterprise mobile application developers, we have to change the way we think about how we design and develop solutions. Just porting the same screen from an ERP system onto a mobile device and deleting some fields and buttons on the screen doesn’t cut it anymore. Yes – enterprise applications can have complex business logic when business processes have a decent level of complexity in real life – but do we need to expose our end-users to this complexity? Definitely not! An enterprise mobile application needs to be simple, fast and as “fun of use” as any consumer application.

You don’t think that’s possible? I do. But it requires a different way of designing these applications. We need to put the user in the heart of the design process and not do mobile projects in a way that just “mobilizes” the existing ERP processes. Which information does the user really need on the device? Think about how we can get the business result done with as little tips and swipes as possible. This helps people save time and lets them enjoy using the application. Think about how swiping can be used to bring up or hide additional information with just one gesture on one screen instead of designing multiple screens. Think about how location services can be leveraged in mobile enterprise applications to restrict the amount of information presented to the user.

Take the example of a service application supporting technicians in doing scheduled maintenance for technical equipment in a factory. Wouldn’t it be great if the application automatically could retrieve the information about the technical equipment the technician is approaching and bring up all required information for the maintenance tasks related to this equipment?  In the same scenario, a camera could be used to display information on the equipment in an actual live image of the asset.  Or even better – the camera detects when the task is completed and automatically brings up the next task. It’s all about making our business lives easier.

With all that said, it is very obvious for me that it is not just the massively growing number of devices that makes mobility such a hot topic these day. It’s the built-in capabilities of these new devices, which we are able to leverage when designing mobile applications that allows end-user to enjoy the use of business applications – finally.

The importance of user experience for enterprise mobile applications cannot be rated high enough. Only the software development companies which make user experience a #1 priority and develop mobile application that delight end-users by leveraging all of the innovative built-in capabilities of modern devices will survive in this business. You only have to look at the younger generation to know this is true. My twelve year old daughter evaluates a new mobile app for a maximum of 2 minutes and then she decides: keep or kill. Imagine when she’s ten years older and using enterprise mobile applications, what her expectations of the user experience will be!

To learn more about mobile app design, contact me at oliver.betz@sap.com.  Look for me at SAPPHIRE Madrid where I will be speaking about mobile app development and will be demonstrating some of the cool new apps built by the SAP Mobility Design Center. 

Not attending SAPPHIRE?  Watch the video to learn more about mobile app development at the SAP Mobility Design Center.

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2 Comments

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  1. Mary Odabashian

    Hi Oliver,

    I’m no techie, I’m right there with your daughter and the droves of consumers – if I can’t get it to work in 30 seconds, I go do something else … no time to demystify my apps!  I work with a lot of young people (not saying I’m not young), and I definitely see that they are less patient and have much higher expectations of the business apps they have at hand.  In the end, I believe it is an important part of our employee a

    ttraction and retention plans to provide solutions that are easy to use, and yes … even fun.

    Hope to hear some real world feedback from those out there doing the coding!

    Cheers, Mary

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  2. Sascha Kiefer

    Hi Oliver,

    I believe it’s hard to overrate the design of an application (or a product). I think most people appreciate a design, which gives them the impression of a product “just made for them”.

    So following the user-centered-design principles, to make sure, that an application exactly supports the needs of a user and appreciates his context is the right thing to do. That’s not only true for mobile apps, but for any application we build.

    There is one thing I often see overrated these days, though: the Visual Design. Even though, I have to admit, that I struggle with the word “overrate” in that context:

    The Visual Design is a vital and very important part of the overall User Experience, so it should have the same priority than the other aspects. And something that looks beautiful is much easier to “sell” than a boring business application coded in SAP GUI (no matter how usable it is and no matter how productive the user becomes).

    But at the end of the day, Visual Design is only one part of the overall UX, and users will recognize pretty fast if it just looks nice or if it really has value for them.

    So with “overrate” I mean, there is a tendency to forget that there is much more to UX than just the beauty.

    So what you said is right, but sometimes it’s forgotten in early phases of projects, that there is a process behind User Experience Design. Therefore it needs to be secured in projects, that the team can focus on doing first things first. If you manage to get the information design and the interaction design right first and then manage to but a beautiful skin on it, then you will gain a great User Experience.

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