Saturday, January 17, 2015

Apps versus the Mobile Web

Unlike that old question, ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’, we know the answer to which came first, the web site, or the app. But will this be the case in years to come and are we now starting to redefine the development process and presentation, not based on chronological order but on fast evolving mobile needs?
The IBA have just published a survey they commissioned from Harris Poll, who collated the views of some 2,000 US adults in December 2014. The survey questions some of the conclusions made by an earlier comScore, which claimed that 88% of consumer mobile time is spent in apps, while some 12% is spent browsing the mobile web.
The IBA findings identified that there were many variances between; search, shopping, news and local directory information activity and whilst users may have a preference in one activity they may have the opposite in another. There is then the web use that is in fact ‘web access hidden in app clothing’, where the app is merely a link to open web material. Is this an app preference, or a web preference? Finally, there were some interesting findings on how users find websites, with online search understandably scoring highly 54%, word of mouth 29% and social media 26%.
However, the interesting question all is raises is on how we develop the user interface for tomorrow? We have an abundance of technology, applications, mobile technology and stakeholders. The question is how do we deploy this and maintain control, auditability and yet serve those both within and outside the organisation? Yesterday we built ERP empires that tried to encompass all users, all needs and all to one database, using one technology and one presentation. They worked for the internal user but lacked the external user interface and presentation. Importantly they tried to handle everything transactional, media and stuff and although business to business activity worked well they often failed to deliver to an ever growing consumer interface need.
In many ways we now have a very diverse repository of information, transactions, content and context and stuff which we can liken to a house. We all look through different windows into the house we see different things according to the window we look through. The kitchen window will be different to the bedroom and that will be different to the bathroom and so on. Same house different perspectives. The trick is that we have just capture and process stuff once and store it once but use it many different ways.
Yesterday we viewed a prototype app for a new service yet to be launched and were taken aback, not because it did something we didn’t expect, but because it presented it in a way we had never expected and one that broke the shackles of the old transactional application screens and the web ones too! We remember when we developed a new elibrary in 2006 and were impressed with how Adobe had presented their Digital Editions offer and adopted a similar look. How dated that now appears and this is not because of the web, but because of the demanding new mobile world, devices and the emergence of the app.
The greatest challenge is not segmenting the different presentation needs, or ensuring that the centre serves all, but in segmenting the activities and views and deciding which takes precedent over the other. Does the dog wag the tail, or the tail the dog? Do developers share, or need to share common ground across all presentations? Do we deal with the transactional activity separate to the other activity? Do we build lots of apps, or one app with potentially many children? Do we build the app then worry about the other stuff. Or build the internal view then worry about the external one? Does the app presentation now impact and influence the other presentations? Have we gone past rows and columns and want animation and graphics?
What is clear is that what we see today will be presented differently tomorrow and therefore the investment may have to be repeated as the environment in which it lives evolves.
The smartphone is now starting to impact what we see, access and how we do things and this will surely now drive development and refine the balance between web and app access but app design will drive web design moving forward.

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