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Windows and mobile apps must be different to be successful

Mobile apps have different use cases and less real estate than desktop apps do. Mobile apps that follow in PC apps' footsteps are doomed to fail.

Mobile is not the same as desktop.

That's a no-brainer, right? But it's easier said than done when it comes to enterprise Windows and mobile applications. Development teams must consider the platform(s) an application will run on and the ramifications of those decisions. The features required before an app can be released may be different based on the platform. And the product manager may even have to maintain separate roadmaps for each operating system's version of the app.

Imagine you have a product roadmap that includes 100 features. You have done all of the required research, and you know what features need to be developed first to form the minimum viable product (MVP). In other words, you have a decent idea of what features should be included in release 1.

From here, the most important question to answer is: On which platform(s) will the app's audience (end-user employees, customers, etc.) use this application? The answer is critical in determining which features -- and how many of them -- you can present in the app's user interface.

80/20 rule reversal

I often use Microsoft Office as an example to illustrate the differences between Windows and mobile apps. Many of us have heard the statement that 80% of desktop Word users interact with only 20% of its features. This figure is a bit anecdotal, but the point is that Office's developers can afford to include a ton of features because they have the luxury of the desktop platform, which has a huge user interface. Windows desktops and laptops with large screens and external monitors allow for hundreds of features to be presented, and there is little concern if features are used or not.

If 80% of users of a desktop application utilize 20% of its features available, it is acceptable from a product management perspective. In mobile, however, this 80/20 rule is turned on its head. On smartphones and tablets, there is significantly less real estate in which to fit all possible features. If a user is not utilizing 80% of the features presented, there is considerable misuse of valuable space. And with that, users will uninstall the app as quickly as they installed it.

Going back to the scenario of having 100 potential features on the list, and based on the 80/20 rule, you could build 80 features into a desktop application with a low risk of negative user experience. But for a mobile version of the same app, including just 20 features would give you the same odds.

That is a major difference in the number of features to deploy to achieve the same likelihood of success. As such, the weighting of the importance of features to include in each version of the app requires serious discussion, research and user experience (UX) analysis.

UX analysis aids Windows and mobile development

UX analysis goes well beyond discussions and debates among the stakeholders investing in the development of an application. Developers must consider the effects of including certain features, based on the user's needs and the desired platforms.

As an example, a critical requirement in UX analysis is the creation of use cases and personas for your targeted end users. Based on real-life observations, surveys and focus groups used to create the personas, product developers can understand what features will compliment or disrupt the end users' experiences with the application. This valuable insight will aid in the decision-making process to determine which features to include in release 1.

To put all of this into perspective, let's turn back to the Office example. Even Microsoft's talented application development staff had to muscle through a steep learning curve on how best to launch Office in the mobile world. Think of all the features that we know and love in the desktop version. Developers had to determine which to include in the mobile versions, and then had to consider how best to deploy them. The developers could not cram in all of the valuable features desired by desktop users, and it took Microsoft the better part of 12 months from announcing mobile versions of Office to finally launching viable products.

It is a daunting task to figure out which features to include in applications, but the more thought and analysis you put into it, the better off you and your users will be.

 

This was last published in January 2015

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Do most enterprise mobile apps meet users' needs?
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Where mobile apps are concerned, it has been my experience that about one in five is actually a useful and needed app that gets used on a daily basis. These select apps do meet my user needs, but the majority always seem wonderful when browsing, but when used in daily tasks they fail to live up to the promised potential. This is why I select mobile apps with jurisprudence.
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I'd agree with Carol - the majority of apps I download seem cool at first, but eventually get relegated to a second or third screen and rarely used. Unless an app solves a real need, it's unlikely to be successful long term. 
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What we found was that the enterprise mobile apps we developed in-house did not meet the user’s needs. A large part of this was due directly to the issue with the 80/20 rule reversal discussed in the article. The users were accustomed to the full feature set of the web applications they worked with, and it was difficult to provide the 20% of the features that were most valuable to the most users. Users were at first excited about the apps and downloaded them, but then found the features they wanted were not in the app or did not function as well, so they stopped using the apps. This led us to focus more of our efforts on ensuring that our applications, most of which were web-based, were at first mobile friendly and optimized for mobile, and then later towards responsive design that is device agnostic.
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It depends. The desktop based business apps I've used for a long time were developed and refined over many years. Most mobile apps are less than five years old and enterprise ones are even younger. So it's not realistic to expect that enterprise mobile apps would fulfill user expectations and requirements until they've had more time to marinate. Some mobile apps look very promising, but I personally haven't experienced a lot of enterprise ones that fit this description.
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