Mobile and cloud are the foundation of next generation computing. At this month’s Cloud Connect event, Lopez Research designed a conference track to discuss how mobile and cloud computing would combine to change security, data management and application development.
Increasingly, the world of mobile is focused on apps. The enterprise market has finally caught app fever. Andrew Dailey from MGI research moderated a panel that included experts from across the industry. Executives from Airwatch, Appcelerator, AnyPresence, MobileIron, SAP Labs, and SOASTA were present to provide commentary on how “Mobile App Development Meets the Cloud.”
I believe these two trends are fundamentally tied at the hip. Cloud computing compliments mobile development by providing easy and scalable methods for application development and testing. Today, entire application development platforms can also be purchased in the cloud.
While there were numerous insights from the panel, I found the discussion on designing applications to be particularly insightful. Many enterprise customers are building mobile apps, but these companies are using concepts that worked in the PC era. The next generation of app development is particularly challenging for enterprise application design. In the consumer world, software companies built micro apps that performed one of two functions flawlessly. These applications could remain micro applications or the application developer could build additional functionality based on reviews and requests.
Consumer applications are upgraded frequently based on user feedback, a change in the version of an operating system or a change in design tools. Applications are rarely considered finished. Iterative design is norm for consumer applications. In fact, there’s even the concept of a disposable app in the consumer landscape. Tom Lounibos, the CEO of Soasta, discussed how a company built an application to launch a product. The application lasted for only 24 hours, but Soasta said the company believed it was worth building to support product sales.
Most of these concepts haven’t translated into enterprise mobile application design today. Enterprise designers want to build applications that are feature rich and will last many years. In fact, many of our existing enterprise applications took years to customize and deploy. In the cloud, applications can be updated daily. In enterprise IT, it could take up to 6 months or more to get an application updated. Consumer applications were adopted because these applications are easy to use and solved a need or desire. Consumers continue to use an application if the company fixes issues quickly and adds new features that are requested.
The question a developer should ask itself as he/she builds employee-facing applications is simple. What functions or workflows would the employee need or want to use on a mobile device? What single function would allow an employee to get the job done faster or easier? Start there.
I personally believe mobile application design represents the new era of application design.
What’s in the new era? First, the post PC application landscape will offer fewer features within an application. While it’s nice to have 500 functions within an application, enterprise applications are frequently cluttered, clunky, and unusable. New applications won’t be designed to support every use case.
Second, applications will be built with iteration in mind. Like consumer applications, developers will constantly add features and upgrade applications from microapps to richer mobile applications.
Third, some applications should be designed with obsolescence in mind. Today enterprise software is expected to last five to ten years because it runs our business. Many new mobile applications will be designed with a shorter lifespan in mind to support a specific line of business goal. For example, marketing could launch an app to support a product launch, sales could request a special catalog for the Christmas season, and field service could build an application to support construction for one project. Being a mobile first company requires new thinking around the design of both the applications and the business processes to support mobile.
What’s your greatest challenge with mobile application design today?
Maribel Lopez is the CEO and mobile market strategist for Lopez Research, a market research and strategy consulting firm that specializes in communications technologies with a heavy emphasis on the disruptive nature of mobile technologies. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.