Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Characteristics of Good Apps.

There is a lot of discussion on the merits and limitations of Mobile Business Intelligence tools. The growth and market penetration of tablets and smart connected devices make them a perfect medium to display BI related, rich and contextual information. The challenge for developers is how to develop "app" like interfaces which function as subsets of major BI information stores and applications. For now, due to memory and limited processor capabilities, only report like content is presented or pushed to the devices.

As we think of apps and mobile renditions of BI related, we must consider what are the characteristics of  good applications:


Apps are always online as the device is constantly logged in to the mobile network. This allows user specific information or notifications being pushed to the App as they are available. In combination with the ubiquity of mobile applications, this is the most important characteristic. A service, that must be called actively to get a reaction is useless in a mobile environment. And with the growing number of Apps on each smartphone, this push-functionality becomes critical to keep an App in the users mind.


An emotional design and a simple (one-handed) handling guarantees a high acceptance. A good App can do its job in different contexts and fast varying situations (changing environmental light and noise, unsteady movement of the device, etc.). So the information architecture and the overall usability must be planed with care to create a fitting and joyful interaction flow. Of course good content also counts to convenience. Analysing the users' needs and creating a useful idea out of it is still essential.


Localization and the possibility to offer location-based information is a key feature that makes mobility vivid and practical. It separates the wheat from the chaff as it embeds the App to the users' context. Sure, this feature might not make sense for every App but localization must not always be thought of as the big thing. Just think of automatically associate the location with a note or photo or by just limiting possible options or by sorting places. It can be useful in little, just creating a good experience for the user.


Reachability covers a more social attribut given by the nature of mobile applications itself. A good App can really be used - and more important makes sense - anywhere at any time. The core of mobile devices is to be used anywhere at anytime. The same is true for Apps where reachability has become availability. Not in sense of usage, but in sense of updated information and perpetual usefulness. Too much academic? Think of actual content round the clock, time-aware options or (again) context sensitivity.


Security has several facets. The data transferred over the network must be encrypted through the carrier network. As some Apps sync data with online, web-based applications, the storage of this data on the server must also be secured. Another aspect concerns the data on the device itself. I don't want anybody playing arround with my mobile phone getting access to my bank account data. Mobility is delicate, an so is the date aggregated and generated in this context.


Creating personalized content based on individual usage or context is another characteristic. It builds on all previous characteristics as it is a kind of melting down of all of them. I want my App fitting my needs and I want my App behaving like I want it to do. This need covers not only personalized content but also control over data stored, shared or used for further actions. The option of turning localization on or off is true personalization. An individual background or personal categories are convenience.