We all know by now that a great mobile user experience requires that an app be immediately intuitive and focused upon a single task or a unified set of tasks. But with iOS 8, Apple finally addresses some mobile UI ‘edge cases’ to help make our mobile experiences even better: the extended experience and the interrupted experience. Though still in beta, their latest direction provides some insight and guidance as to how we can best continue delivering an even more amazing, productive mobile experience moving forward. Provided here are my thoughts around some of these less-discussed aspects of mobile: app launch, app return, and how to best extend the experience beyond the app itself.
1. Get to it!
While Soundhound’s features aren’t necessarily relevant in an enterprise context, the premise certainly is. No matter what your app does, it’s critical to get the user to its main function as quickly as possible, with the least amount of resistance. For instance, if security demands require the app include a login, consider letting users setup a 4-digit PIN rather than have to enter a username and password each time.
Like Shazam, Soundhound is a consumer application that identifies songs by ‘listening’ to them. Previous versions required the user to tap a “Listen” button before the app would go to work. In response to user feedback, however, this has changed.
Now the app immediately begins listening as soon as it is launched. This makes sense since the most likely user path is identifying a song (versus checking ones history, etc.). Also, since the behavior is time-sensitive (a song may end at any time), a missed song can only result in a frustrated user, a lost fan, and a missed mp3 purchase. Shazam has taken a wrong turn in my opinion.They still require users to tap a ‘listen’ button (to “Shazam” a song) but added an auto-listen feature which continues to identify songs even when the app is running in the background. To me, this seems creepy at best, a privacy invasion at worst, and likely a serious drain on ones smartphone battery. Tech radar reports “the app should demand less power than a phone call.”
Which sounds great until you consider this is a phone call that lasts…forever. It also forces users to go back at the end of each day and review all the songs identified and figure out which ones they actually care about. Sounds like more of a waste of time than anything else.
2. In-App Linking — “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”
Apple has given much attention recently to the idea of making apps work better together. iOS 8’s app-linking extensions strongly encourages communication between apps so it’s best to start thinking along these lines now. Ask yourself, how can our experience be improved upon by allowing access to additional features? How might users continue processing the information provided by the app? Or if this is an enterprise endeavor, use app-linking as a guide to begin planning a series of app releases, rather than building upon a single app that becomes more bloated with features with each release. Application #1 performs X features and—when the company is ready—will link-out to App #2, which will provide additional functionality. For instance, an internal maps app (like the one we built for Amway) that lets employees locate and book conference rooms might also link a user out to an internal chat or file-exchange app so the folks running the meeting can be sure they’re all on the same page before the meeting begins. Take a look at these early examples of in-app linking. Soundhound and Shazam (again with the Soundhound and Shazam!) provide links so users can play discovered songs on Spotify, Rdio, iTunes Radio, and Pandora while Google Maps provides a direct link to Uber when users select a bus or walking map. One wonders what the financial arrangement between companies might be in either case.
3. Get back to it!
Continuity is another aspect of the mobile experience Apple is interested in improving since iOS 8 promises something they call “Handoff” which “lets you pick up right where you left off” no matter if you’re on your iPhone, your iPad, or your desktop Mac. Handoff will work with Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts. Further, developers will be able to add Handoff to their own apps as well.
Mac users have long since gotten accustomed to being returned to their applications right where they left off. Startup your machine and your previously running applications open right back up and there you are. Unfortunately, with mobile apps this is less often the case, even when it comes to Facebook. Apps left running in the background tend to revert back to a home state when reopened. Ideally, to provide the least jarring experience, an application should also return users right where they left off (while providing clear direction on how to access any new content).
We can assume Netflix and Hulu are two apps that have to deal with the interrupted experience most frequently. Take a look at how they handle it. Hulu provides a Resume button, allowing the user to get back to watching a single show-in-progress, while Netflix handles the situation far more elegantly and efficiently, devoting a entire horizontally-sliding menu to partially watched videos. Also note how Netflix stays true to the tenet: “Interact with content, not buttons,” allowing the thumbnails to serve double-duty as content (movie info) and navigation while Hulu, with its Resume button and accompanying text, resorts to using an outdated modality.
While the examples above are all pulled from the consumer app space, the three concepts behind them apply to any mobile application, enterprise or otherwise. 1. Get your users working in the app as quickly as possible. 2. Return users coming back to the app right where they previously left off. 3. And lastly, always be cognizant of ways to extend an app’s functionality by linking to other/partner (or even to future) applications.
Content Strategy Lead at Anexinet