Making your mobile offering essential to users
As my twitter followers and facebook friends will know I’ve recently had an unplanned holiday from my iPhone. We’re reunited now, but the days apart have really clarified what I most use it for and how much I rely on it. I can take a break from my mac for a week with no problems but just 24hrs without my phone and I feel completely lost, literally!
It has given me the opportunity though, to take a step back and assess what makes those apps I struggled to live without so essential, here are my top three:
Location based – Maps is essential for anyone with a dodgy sense of direction. If you have bricks and mortar stores or branches, or even just have your office address on your site, adding location functionality to your mobile site will make it essential for users. Marks and Spencer’s store finder is a great example. The site uses the device’s current location to find the nearest store and links out to the Maps app for you to find your way. M&Ss decision to develop their mobile optimised site over device specific apps was big news at the time but shows that not having an app in the itunes or android store is no excuse for neglecting the location capabilities of mobile devices.
Provide something unique – When we first started working in mobile I often heard people say of an idea “there’s already an app for that, there’s no point in pursuing this”. While I do think it is super-important to have a USP to your mobile offering I don’t think that necessarily means having to find a completely new concept, you just need to make sure that your execution of it is the best: the most useful; easy to use; attractive; or has some extra functionality – a new idea within an existing one. There are, for example a number of London transport apps, but everyone I’ve spoken to uses the same one because it’s so simple to use, it’s similar to the tfl website and is reliable.
It’s brilliant to carve out a niche with a cracking idea (that’s why we pride ourselves on our strong creativity and design work), but the fact that your idea may have been “done” is no excuse for ignoring mobile.
Social Media – Many of the apps I wanted on my little communication vacation were social media related. I find I rely on twitter for real-time travel and news updates, (I really wish it’d been working through the riots), I also frequently wanted to access instagram (a little like twitter but with pictures) and pinterest. The social media angle isn’t just reserved for the big SM channels though. We’re always talking about a mobile strategy, as we know that just optimising a site or getting an app in store is only a part of a business’ mobile presence. Rather pleasingly Apple seem to have agreed with us that Social and mobile go hand in hand as they’ve integrated Twitter within the new operating system, iOS 5 (out in the Autumn). Your customers/clients/users need to know that all the hard work you’ve put into your app or site is there, and they’ll also want to share how brilliant it is in social media channels. The easier and more enjoyable to use you make your connections to those channels the more passionate brand advocates your customers will be.
As well as being immensely frustrating I think my break from my favourite technology has actually been rather useful. If you’re starting to look into your business’s mobile offering perhaps a day without your smartphone would help to clarify what you love most about the apps you use, and help inform the direction of your strategy. I’d challenge all developers to have a day off too. If you do have a smartphone break it’d be great to hear what you miss most: what are your favourite app/site elements?