This article is part of our February 2019 series about mobile. Click here for more.
Smartphones and other mobile technologies have revolutionized the way people connect with friends, business associates, and the larger world. They’ve transformed everything from agriculture and energy production to retailing and zoology. It’s also safe to say we now live in a world where mobile apps rule and wireless connectivity is viewed as a utility.
“The mobile experience is front and center for every business,” said Aaron Tenbuuren, experience design lead at Intrepid Pursuits, a design firm that’s part of Accenture.
Yet times are changing. Only a few years ago, it was enough to produce a mobile app that required users to tap their way to a result or transaction. And it was enough to rely on the same general design techniques that worked with Web browsers. But today a slew of emerging technologies, including voice assistants, image recognition, augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) intersect with mobility. In addition, smartwatches and other wearables, along with voice assistants, are redrawing the lines, too.
What’s now required for a killer mobile experience? What differentiates the good from the great? First, it’s vital to recognize that interfaces and features that paid dividends a few years ago don’t necessarily deliver benefits today. As standards have changed, ideas about what produces a great mobile experience have evolved.
“There is a growing emphasis on simplicity of design and offering features that make things easier for users,” said Derek Fridman, chief design officer for Huge, a New York-based web and app design agency.
Another starting point for understanding today’s mobile environment is to recognize that consumer behavior and channel habits are a moving target. A 2018 PwC report, “From Mall to Mobile: Adjusting to New Consumer Habits,” found that over the past six years purchases from PCs have dropped from 27% to 20%, while smartphone commerce has swelled from 7% to 17%. Tablets comprise about 12% of purchases. Meanwhile, mobile video consumption has increased considerably, making up 75% of worldwide video viewing today, according to eMarketer.
But there’s more to it than the fact that consumers are increasingly using mobile devices to consume media and make purchases. It’s also about how they spend time on smartphones and other devices. For example, “stickiness” is no longer a highly desirable thing, according to Roger Woods, director of mobile product and strategy at Adobe. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)
“Oftentimes, people aren’t looking to spend time in an app,” Woods said. “They are looking to perform a specific task, such as obtaining a boarding pass or making a purchase, and they want to get out as fast as possible. Businesses have to understand that it’s about making things as simple and frictionless as possible.”
When organizations get the equation right, the result is an ability to deliver greater value to customers. Eliminating clicks and steps is critical.
“What many businesses fail to understand is that we’re not in the web browsing world of a decade ago or even in the app world of five years ago,” Woods said. “Nowadays, a quick snackable experience is more likely to drive loyalty. It’s all about the quality of the experience, not the quantity of experience.”
The challenge of delivering a compelling mobile experience is magnified by the fact that many organizations have accumulated both “technical debt” and “experiential debt” over the past few years. Legacy designs, legacy technology systems, existing partnerships, and an array of internal factors, including culture and silos, can inhibit progress. The result might be a clunky interface, friction with logins, poorly displayed information, cumbersome payment options, and more, Huge’s Fridman explains. Refreshing or tidying up an app or mobile site won’t fix the underlying problem either. In fact, adding new features to the existing mess will only make things worse and frustrate customers more.
This “debt” manifests itself in several ways. For example, a consumer may turn to an app to purchase concert tickets or order flowers but find that the merchant hasn’t set up a single-button payment solution, such as Apple Pay or Visa Checkout. Instead, the shopper must fill in forms and type in a credit card number. The lack of integration with a payment system increases the odds of an abandoned shopping cart.
Another problem revolves around app integration, Intrepid Pursuits’ Tenbuuren said. Consumers want to connect apps and linked accounts automatically. “They want fitness information and other data easily accessible,” he said. “They don’t want to spend time downloading data and connecting apps.”
AR, AI, and IoT capabilities are rapidly moving into the mobile world. Voice technology, driven by Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Now, is becoming a de facto interface, while cameras and sensors in phones are pushing apps in new directions. This digital framework—which also incorporates predictive analytics—makes it possible to order toothpaste through an Echo device, switch on lights with an Apple Watch, and view product information by hovering the phone over an item and scanning a box or bar code.
This convergence of digital technologies creates entirely new and often better ways to do things. For example, home furnishing retailer IKEA offers an augmented reality app, IKEA Place, that allows users to preview furniture in their homes with a smartphone. Cosmetics company Sephora has tapped AR to let users see what they look like before buying makeup. The Virtual Artist app overlays the makeup on a photo image of the user’s face. Meanwhile, Domino’s Pizza serves up a zero-click ordering interface. Once a user has selected and stored a favorite pie, he or she simply opens the app and watches a 10-second countdown. There’s nothing else to do.
A growing number of mobile websites and apps also have adopted more streamlined interfaces. Cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks is a good example. Its mobile site serves up recommended content, blogs, events, and more on its main page. The top of the page displays the word “Menu” with a small icon next to it. Tapping on it allows the user to drill down into products, services, resources, partners, and company information. By stripping out all but the most essential words and graphics, users can navigate the site far more easily. There’s minimal distraction and a cleaner user interface.
Advances in technology, including the cloud, are also helping organizations sync delivery channels and create a more unified experience—including hand-offs across devices. Dedicated mobile data analytics tools can provide powerful insights into trends and patterns, Tenbuuren said. These tools also can help businesses optimize the delivery of notifications and content.
“If you know a person is coming to your app once a month, you probably want to approach the person differently than someone who comes to the app every day,” he told CMO.com. “The last thing you want to do is become a nuisance and have the person shut you off or delete your app because you are bombarding them with messages and notifications they don’t want.”
Tracking fast-moving mobility trends is critical. Adobe’s Woods suggested that businesses stay focused on what’s really important: delivering simplicity and value to customers, business partners, employees, and others. This means being aware of emerging technologies and how they increasingly intersect with mobility—and offer opportunities to create faster and better ways to do things. It also means understanding how users act and react in apps and other mobile environments.
Huge’s Fridman recommends exploring the major AR development platforms and looking for opportunities to transform products, services, and other offerings with them. He also sees a huge, untapped opportunity related to bridging the physical and virtual worlds. This may include QR codes, symbols that trigger events with a smartphone camera, and ways to use sensors, APIs, and other devices to make routine physical objects digital and digital objects smarter.
“The ultimate question is: ‘What benefits the user? And what’s the optimal way to address a business case while moving the needle for the business?’” Fridman said.
Businesses can take a cue from the airlines, which have done a remarkable job of creating highly functional and visually pleasing mobile apps, Woods added. What’s more, these apps address numerous complex and disparate processes. Indeed, it’s possible to buy a ticket, select a seat, receive a notification when it’s time to check in for a flight, and download a boarding pass. The same apps let flyers upgrade seats, purchase Wi-Fi, and track bags. Some even alert fliers about which carousel to retrieve their bags. A person wearing a smart watch can view the information with his or her hands full.
Said Woods: “If you can make it simpler for people to achieve what they are trying to do, everyone wins.”