Brian Madden recently wrote an excellent article on how to argue about html vs native apps as well as touch versus keyboard/mouse and made some great points. It is definitely worth a read. We do diverge a little bit in our thinking though when he gets to features vs focus in apps. He quotes me as saying that Word has too many features and then goes to add that I mention that it needs track changes. This is combining two different sections of things that I talked about in the podcast. I do believe that the killer word processing app for the enterprise must have Track Changes and that if Microsoft were to include it when they decide to release Office for iOS and Android that they will blow everyone else out of the market. This is very different from feature laden vs focus in Apps.
Brian has a great illustration in this part of his article of an airplane cockpit with 100s of controls and dials vs. a view with 3 buttons, 1 each for takeoff – fly – land. It’s a great illustration but honestly for the wrong section. His illustration applies to the earlier part of his column when he is talking about selecting the right tool for the job. While you certainly wouldn’t fly a plane with just three buttons, you also wouldn’t attach that same complex cockpit to a hang glider. When you are picking the right tool for the job you pick the one that enables you to do the job the best way that you know how.
This is a very different task than when you have already picked a mobile device such as a tablet to do the job and know your only choice to work with on that device is a crapplication. The point I had made then and many other times is that Microsoft Word, in its desktop incarnation has way to many features that aren’t really necessary on a mobile device. I, for example, am writing this post on my iPad using Apple’s Pages. There are about 30 functions in this app and I have yet to use all of them but it allows me to do my writing. Do I need to be doing mathematical formulas in this post? Nope, but if I did I would switch to my laptop or look for an app that allowed me to do that.
The choice that we are talking about here is not really one of beauty/simplification but of focus, and that one is focusing on what the user will actually be doing.
If I am an enterprise, sure I would like an off the shelf app, but if I am building my own apps how should I go about doing it. Too many, these days look at the application as it is used on the desktop and then create a faithful rendition of that on the mobile device. If the business objective of using the tablet is to make your users more productive, than this must extend to the apps that you are putting on the tablet. Start by figuring out what the task(s) are that need to be accomplished. Will they be the same as when you are sitting at your desk, Most likely not. Instead, they will usually break up their tasks based upon what they are trying to accomplish. If you simplify your apps by having them focus on these accomplishments as opposed to allowing the scope creep of “well they may want to do the same thing as when they are at a desk” you will achieve an app and not a crapplication.
This doesn’t mean that an app can’t have more than one feature or function, but that the UI and UX must be based upon how the tasks will be performed and allow them to occur naturally. Let’s look at an example of a car dealer. When a car salesman wants to sell a car they go through many different phases. First the buyer walks into the dealership and wants to talk to a salesman about the different cars. The salesman will ask a few questions in order to create a contact form, this can be its own app, you add data as you learn it and can even add what car the person wants. Then, you talk about the features and tech specs of the car, this would be a second app that might be an electronic brochure, which includes all the photos and tech specs. You can hand the device to the buyer to look at it with them (include movies too) and if they want to take the info home they put in their email address themselves and send it. Next up, the test drive. Have you ever watched how a salesman figures out what cars they have on the lot. Its criminal the way the program works (or many times it’s through a manual paper process). Let’s turn this into an inventory app that is kept up to date centrally. They put in the type of car, color etc. and it tells them if it’s on the lot, where it is, what key slot the key is in (in the future one would assume programmable keys). If the color the buyer wants isn’t available you can show what is, and at the same time do a search for the nearest dealership that might have it. Extend these to the point where you are now negotiating and setting all the terms of the deal. How do you think the buyer feels in this situation? How about the salesperson? How much more productive were they, being able to conduct most of their business with the buyer, in a more comfortable setting? Can some of these apps be combined sure? Should all of them be combined, probably not. Does a laptop make sense for most of these interactions? I would posit that the answer is no, because you want the seller interacting with their customer, not hunting and pecking at their desk to slow down the deal. If they need to be mobile should they carry a laptop with them to do this? How will the buyer feel with a laptop to look at brochures and specs instead of an easy to pass tablet. What if there is a question during the test drive, easy enough to answer right there on the spot. Does this same model makes sense for the financial guy who is sitting in an office and trying to figure out the best terms for the loan for the customer. Here they should probably be using a full featured machine with a keyboard and mouse to work their magic, although it would be nice if the info the salesman collected on the iPad were magically merged so the information isn’t entered twice…but we will let other processes take care of that
The goal of going mobile for most companies is enabling their employees to be more productive where it best makes sense which should help raise revenues and the bottom line. You choose the device that makes the most sense but you should also choose the Apps that make the most sense as well. Your employees certainly won’t achieve better morale if the crapplication beatings continue. Oh, and Brian, if you are looking for a document map feature and that’s the one thing that would make word processing on a tablet better for you, let the app makers know and why.