Every day, an average smartphone-user spends more than 2 hours and 40 minutes with his/her mobile device. More tellingly, for nearly 87% of that time (which also comes to more than 2 hours), (s)he uses mobile applications. With the total number of available apps rising rapidly – the combined app count at the App Store and Play Store is in excess of 3.1 million – the onus is firmly on developers to deliver optimal app-using experience to customers. The fact that 1 out of every 4 downloaded apps do not last even one full day on users’ devices is proof enough that most applications come up short on this user-experience count. In what follows, we have outlined some pointers to help mobile app developers in this regard:
- User-interaction is not User-Experience – The two are, unlike what many newbies in the field of app development feel, not synonymous terms. ‘User-Interaction’ refers to the way in which a person uses your application – how (s)he navigates through the screens, exchanges/stores data, performs transactions, and the like. In a nutshell, it is the overall behaviour of the user while operating an app. On the other hand ‘user-experience’ is all about whether a person likes or totally hates using the app – maybe due to poorly-conceived layouts and interfaces, or a laggy nature, or frequent crashes, or…oh well, there can be many problems if the app developer is not careful enough. User-interaction generates a positive or negative influence in the minds of the user, and that translates to user-experience. Monitor the first with a proper app analytics system, and try to improve the latter accordingly.
- Make your app a quick-performer – According to leading mobile app entrepreneurs across the world, speed is a vital factor in determining the success or doom of an application. The average app-interaction time of users is small (way less than that with desktop apps), and people want to get things done quickly. After all, that is one of the key reasons for downloading any app. If your app takes too long to load, the splash screen remains visible for more than 10-15 seconds, users have to navigate through a truckload of screens – rest assured that the application will be chucked out of most devices pretty soon. Follow the simple three-tap rule – a user should not have to make more than three taps after opening an app, to arrive at the screen (s)he wants to view.
- Identify your target users, and design accordingly – The role of UI/UX designers, graphic artists and animators in influencing the app-using experience cannot be overemphasized. Any good mobile app agency would place prime importance on first identifying the profile of the audience group a new app would target, and then instruct its creative department to prepare the layouts and designs accordingly. For instance, a personal finance application should have a completely different look and feel from a mobile fitness tracker, which, in turn, should not be anything like an Android or iPhone app for kids. Know your users well, and design keeping their requirements and preferences in mind.
- Native ads are the way to go – This holds true for both general apps as well as mobile games. Apart from in-app purchases and providing paid subscription options (which, for many apps, is not advisable) – the other popular mobile app monetization strategy is the inclusion of in-app advertisements. Unfortunately, many developers make a mistake by placing invasive ads that hamper user-experience (for gaming apps, such ads can deter proper gameplay). Instead, you should consider including native ads – which are never similarly disruptive. Decide how and where these ads are going to be placed, right at the time when you are chalking out the app layouts. The ads should blend in seamlessly with the application, and not appear as distractions.
- Be proactive about seeking feedback – If an iOS app developer hopes to create successful apps, (s)he needs to be open to feedback and suggestions. Share the wireframe sketches and mockups with the potential users, and find out whether they have any recommendations or improvement suggestions that can be implemented. For mobile app development agencies, seeking feedback from the clients at every stage is imperative. Even the best mobile app developers can overlook certain stuff – and the opinions and feedback from third-party sources always come in handy.
- Make optimal use of the screen real estate – Creating an app for a mobile screen is not the same thing as making a desktop application. Once you have identified the platform and the devices that your app will be operable on – prepare the screens in a manner that the total space on the device screens is properly utilized. There should neither be any unnecessary clutter (stay away from cramming in too much of content or images), nor should there remain too much of blank space. In this context, the job of Android developers is more challenging than their iOS counterparts – simply due to the huge array of Android devices currently available in the market. For Apple, it’s only about the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod Touch, and yes, the Watch.
- Do not try to cut corners – Agile development is something every mobile app company has to follow, while working on new projects. The competition is getting fiercer, and there is a definite need to shorten the app development cycles. However, this should never be done by glossing over the need for implementing top-notch, user-friendly, customized UI/UX designs in an application. Depending on the type of app you are working on, frame an idea about how long it would take to complete, and specify that clearly when you provide free app quotes to clients. If you try to rush through the development, you will almost surely end up making a defective application – one that would satisfy neither the client nor the end-users. Invest as much time on an app as it warrants.
- Perform A/B testing – We have already talked about the importance of collecting and working on external feedback. Professional Android and iPhone app developers can make things more objective – by creating two (or more) beta designs for an app, showing them to clients as well as a core group of testers, and seeking their opinions on them. Such A/B split testing would provide an objective idea about which app design layout is superior – and developers can proceed with it.
- Do not design the app you are coding for – Programming and creatives are two entirely separate specializations, in the context of mobile app development (in most other fields too, for that matter). You might be an absolute genius with Xcode and Swift programming (for Android developers, it would be Eclipse and Java) – but when it comes to using Photoshop, or Maya, or SpriteKit, or any other app designing/animation tool, your skills might be just about ho-hum. In general too, there is a common adage that developers do not make good designers, and vice versa. Work in collaboration with a professional graphics team – who would take care of the UI/UX designing, as you concentrate on the coding part. After all, there is a reason why the big mobile app agencies have separate teams of developers and designers.
- Check the effect on battery performance – Most smartphone users randomly search for stuff at the app stores, and download and install the software they like. In 2015, over 95% of such downloaded apps were uninstalled within one month. A common complaint among app-users is that certain applications cause significant battery drain and/or lead to devices getting overheated. Make sure that your app is not a battery or bandwidth hog, and it does not adversely affect the overall performance of the target devices in any other way. Many people play games or chat on social networking apps (WhatsApp, anyone?) for hours on end – and even such ‘power-users’ should not face any problems.
- Test your app. Very Thoroughly. – Completing an iPhone app development project without proper testing is pure guesswork – something that iOS developers should stay well away from (the same, of course, goes for those making Android apps as well). Apparently minor bugs, random screen freezes and crashes, unsatisfactory designs, complicated in-app navigation – all of these can wreak havoc on the app-experience of general users. Not only is a problematic app promptly ditched from devices, the affected users, justifiably, spread negative word-of-mouth opinions and reviews about it. Keep such risks at bay, by assigning a certain time for dedicated mobile app testing. The importance of NOT TESTING YOUR OWN APP should be reiterated here. You might be way too much in love with your creation to notice its flaws!
- Proper software and hardware integration is essential – The mobile app you create should be able to use to the hardware resources of the device(s) it is installed on. Otherwise, the functionality of the application will always remain half-baked, and it won’t take long for a user to find a better alternative. In addition, developers also need to make their apps well-integrated with other native applications on devices. That’s the only way smartphone-owners can be given the holistic mobile-using experience that they often seek. For instance, an image-based app should be able to integrate the camera features of a phone.
Providing prompt, reliable customer support – aimed at resolving user-problems and queries as quickly as possible – is yet another important factor for improving the overall user-experience. Mobile app developers also need to provide as many customization options as possible in the software they create. People love using their apps, their way.
It all boils down to this…if users are not satisfied with your app, they will not keep using it. It is the responsibility of app-makers to deliver a winning user-experience.