SAN FRANCISCO—Software developers and enterprises of all kinds want to reach the growing number of mobile users who have ditched the desktop in favor of smartphones and tablets. But while users may love their mobile devices, they don’t love apps that are overly intrusive and stray from simple design concepts.
That was the message conveyed by several veteran application design managers speaking here at the Mobile Beat conference July 13, which is focused on successful mobile market business strategies.
For example, Mike Amend, vice president of Online, Mobile and Multichannel at Home Depot, said the company found users didn’t like getting alerts and “push” notifications about deals and special offers while trying to work with apps because it interrupted what they were looking at.
“We did some testing and found that most customers don’t like to be pushed with messaging; they like to be engaged [with the Home Depot] app in an episodic manner,” Amend said.
What has proven move effective is what Amend calls “message marketing” where promotional texts from the retailer are sent to a message center in the app. For example, users got a message last year near Father’s Day that they could buy an eGift card right in the app. “We saw a 61 percent lift in eGift card purchases,” he said. “It’s promotional, but it’s not in your face.”
But a focus on unobtrusive and clean design hasn’t kept Home Depot from including some pretty sophisticated features in its app. For example, Home Depot’s mobile app is “geo-fenced” so that when you’re using it in the store, you can get a 3D view of the store to help find what you’re looking for and chat online with sales associates. Once you leave the store area, the geo-fence is broken and you get the more traditional view and navigation to products.
A later session titled “The art of a kick-ass mobile design” featured application design managers from four well-known online software companies—Workday, Mint (the financial management application division of Intuit), Evernote and Airbnb.
Joe Korngiebel, senior vice president of user experience at Workday, said mobile apps are rapidly changing the way we live, work and play. “Yahoo has done some innovative things with its weather app and a News app that has some gamification to make it fun. With the Uber app, I can get a ride; Intuit will let me do all my taxes on my phone,” he said.
Home Depot, Workday, Mint Execs Offer Tips on Building Hit Mobile Apps
Meanwhile, he said his enterprise software company is finding people want to do traditional desktop apps, like performance reviews and expense reports, on their smartphone. “App design has transcended to where it’s going mobile first,” he said.
But Workday has a different goal than most consumer and many business apps when it comes to usage. Rather than encourage “stickiness” and longer use sessions than say an ad-sponsored game app developer would want, Korngiebel said his hope is that Workday apps are used less.
“As the head of user experience, this might sound like a weird thing to say, but we want our users spending less time because that means the app is helping them do things like performance reviews faster. Faster equals success,” Korngiebel said. He also said it’s important to invest in easy navigation and optimizing app performance, because if mobile users have to wait, they won’t use the app at all.
Mike Tschudy, head of design at Mint.com and consumer banking at Intuit, admits the company has to engage in “nagware” to keep users coming back. While some users obsessively check and manage their finances using Mint’s app, others see it as a chore to be avoided. But personal finance apps like Mint’s are more useful the more they’re used.
The panelists spent a fair amount of time discussing native apps designed for mobile devices versus Web apps. There was agreement that native mobile apps have an advantage by offering better performance.
Jamie Hull, vice president of mobile products at Evernote, said the company gets potential new users at its mobile Website registration page “and then we convert them to the native app as soon as possible.” She said the core user experiences on Evernote are simply faster in the native app.
Tschudy said, “We know things are headed to native. For now, you want to create an experience where the user can start on the Web and finish on a mobile phone.”
Alex Schleifer, head of design at Airbnb, said search engine optimization (SEO) systems have been designed for the mobile Web while native app solutions are emerging. “With the work that Apple, Google and others are doing, you can see native apps taking over in the next few years,” he said.
“It’s sad because I always thought the Web was the thing when I started out—who wants to go back to installing stuff? But the Web as an app is probably on its way out.”