Mobile context aptly describes the myriad ways you can present information to your users on a mobile device.  Now that more and more smartphone users prefer to browse on their mobile device over the PC, it is essential that you provide (at least) the same information from your “large screen” presence to mobile users. But why not go further?  The smartphone is more personal, and you can provide more timely information to your customers than the PC.

Here are a few tips to ensure that your mobile presence outperforms your “big screen” site:

1.  Size

Don’t just “scale it all down.”  Simply making your site smaller will leave out important information, slow loading time, and make it potentially hard to navigate on a mobile device. You’ve been to those sites, where the links are so close together you invariably hit the wrong one and drift off into cyber-nowhere.  Assume we all have “fat fingers,” and design to suit a smaller format.

2. Screen orientation

If I rotate my screen, don’t reload the page. That just forces the user to wait.  Have you ever tried to read an article while bouncing a child to sleep?  There are apps I still refuse to use because of long load times and poor usability, and my kids are out of diapers.

3. User behavior

Google has broken down the mobile user behaviors into three basic buckets:

    1. Urgent needs: Search, local needs, do/edit/create (the boss needs a response now!).
    2. Repetitive: check-ins, data snacking, micro tasking (check my e-mail, just in case the boss needs anything).
    3. Bored: Waiting, distraction, playing.

For your mobile site, make sure that you fulfill the “urgent” needs of your users right away.  Then make sure that “repetitive” or “bored” activities are made easier through efficient navigation..

4. Sync

If you have a mobile and a web presence, make sure the user experience is synced between the two services.  For example, if I book a table at a restaurant on my PC, make sure that information is fed to the mobile site when I open it (because I don’t have my laptop when I am lost, hungry, and in a new city).

5.  Location

Location is probably listed most often as the “game changer” context for mobile.  There are a lot of ideas out there on how you can use location for your app, but here are a few ideas on how to use location as a context:

1. Geofencing:  Change the context based on location: if I am in the airport, I want my airline app to behave differently than if I am at home.  Perhaps point me to the nearest food/restrooms and alert me of gate changes. When I am at home, show me deals from a local airport to a sunny destination.  All of a sudden, your app is much more useful to me!

2. Location alerts: Imagine you are building an app for the zoo. If I download the application, but am ten or more miles away, you might provide basic information or link to a webcam of the new fuzzy baby panda that was just born.  If I am under a mile away, you would provide the zoo map.  Further, you might want to poll more frequently, and provide such alerts as, “Rhesus monkey feeding at the monkey house in 20 minutes.”

6. Sharing

How many times have you been out and about, grabbed an awesome photo, and someone says, “Can you send it to me?”  Does your app have sharing capability (to Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?  Could your app do NFC sharing?

7. “The Uncanny App Valley”

In his 2013 Google IO talk, Reto Meier talks of the “Uncanny App Valley.”  This is the dark side of mobile context.  Make sure that the data you are using is for good, and not evil.  Evil includes spamming, stealing, and stalking, but it can be more than that.  Evil can also mean killing the user’s battery with overzealous behaviors.  Make sure that all the services you utilize are being smart as far as how much data is being collected, and how often you are getting this data.  Finally, make sure you have a privacy policy on how you use your customers’ data.

With these tips, you can start thinking about how you might design an awesome mobile experience that gives your users everything they need from you at their fingertips, anywhere in the world.

What other tips and tricks have you utilized for mobile in your applications?