There are now over one billion smartphones in use across the globe. This figure is expected to double by 2015. Tablet sales are also exploding. The software landscape is changing, so shouldn't our design strategy change too? Modern users expect their services and information to travel with them and in a form that scales appropriately to their platform of choice.
While desktop and web applications excel at offering a high degree of detail and customization, mobile and tablet applications must present a more task-focused design, yet with a consistent and familiar feel. Designing for mobile can bring new design influences back to the desktop, making your overall product better. Stark evidence of this can be seen in the latest wave of web applications and desktop operating systems, which are steadily moving toward a mobile first strategy.
When designing for mobile first, we should follow some emerging rules of thumb.
The design should be context aware and predictive.
If the user reads though two pages of a document, we should assume they will read the third. If it's evening time and the user has left the office, we can assume they are traveling home.
User interface navigation should be clear and follow a similar pattern across all platforms.
The user should already know how to use the desktop application simply because they've already used the tablet version. The reality is that any large-scale product will be comprised of use cases that are more suited to desktop (data entry, file manipulation) and others more suited to mobile (location-aware, audio/video capture, opportunistic). A mobile first design should capitalize on this, enriching the experiences that make the most sense on mobile rather than trying to fit a square into a circle.
There are countless statistics showing that mobile traffic across all sorts of industries is exploding. Those who capitalize on the mobile wave will yield the most success. Designers must forget some of what was previously expected. Fast Internet, an always-on power source and a large screen are no longer guaranteed and cannot be expected. Connectivity from anywhere, anytime, with data about location, proximity, contacts, calendar and a phone can be expected. Rule 101 of design still applies: know your user.
Mobile design cannot be an afterthought; instead it should drive the entire application and web design process. The easiest way to design for mobile first is to craft the experience for tablets and create modifications for desktop and phones. Mobile designers must rethink how mobile users interact with software. The usage patterns are more transient in nature. Think bus stops, sandwich queues, commuter trails, bedtimes—these are when your users will rapidly flick between apps and web pages. Your job is to grab their attention. Polish is key—if an app only does one thing, but does it right, people will use it.
At IBM, we too believe in putting mobile first. Our recently announced portfolio IBM MobileFirst clearly demonstrates this. Our goal is to provide businesses with a true end-to-end set of mobile solutions that combines security, analytics and app development. Coupled with our unique set of business services and deep mobile expertise, we enable everyone to transform their business model and become mobile first.
What do you think? Let me know on Twitter @jreddin.