Mobile is all the rage these days. We’ve shaken off the shackles of the desk. Now everything’s on-the-go. A dependency on phones and tablets has created the perfect space for growing mobile technology to expand in all directions. So, it's natural to be thinking about transitioning from web to mobile development.
If you want your development skills to find their way to this world, it’s important to understand how different it is. Here are five considerations for transitioning from web to mobile development.
1. Mobile Is Always With You
The clear advantage is the "anywhere-and-everywhere" nature of mobile. The fact that we can pick up our smartphones any time and open an application makes a big difference. The contrast between that and web applications is almost a chasm, given that they are best used on PCs.
So, apps are action-oriented, unlike the web, which is mostly information-oriented. Apps also demand precision. They serve one purpose, solve one problem.
But there’s more to it than that. Human beings are deeply driven by habits, routines and comfort. They will always choose the most comfortable way to do a task. This is not necessarily bad. In fact, it's a realistic and necessary scenario for the crazy stressful days most of us have.
Additionally, think about what we all have to do every day. Take children to school. Go to work. Go shopping. Pay bills. So, it's easy to understand that people want to act immediately. The need for an app may be at an exact moment and not one or two hours later when you can turn on the laptop at home.
So, you need to understand your audience of users, what devices they use and their capacity. Mobile development focuses primarily on solving one specific need, particularly a need that can arise anywhere, any time.
2. Performance Expectations Are Way Higher
When you need to access something on the go, usually you need it fast. The shortest delay could be a deal breaker. When developing for web, people already know to adjust their expectations. But a move from web to mobile development means that you face performance expectations that are set very high, since native apps are super fast and fluid.
Device limitations combined with memory, processor, and network restrictions have a major impact on mobile app performance, yet excellent visual performance is imperative. So unlike web applications, which can often be resource hogs because of the massive amount of available processing capacity in PCs, mobile apps must run as smoothly while using as few resources as possible.
Yes, it’s true that recently there has been dramatic growth in the resources available in smartphones. And yes, they are increasingly faster and have greater storage capacity. In fact, you can take a look at what’s on tap for the near future here. However, not everyone has these new, speedier devices or the opportunity to take advantage of these new technologies, and special attention is needed for this kind of situation.
Instead of just designing for bigger, faster and stronger, each mobile application should be tested for multiple devices of different sizes with differing resources. The goal is responsive actions and fluidity no matter the capacity, processing or form factor.
3. The Offline Challenge
“Seeing how flaky our connections are — I am writing this on a plane — our apps should make people as effective as possible and this means we shouldn’t be dependent on a connection. The interface should be usable whilst we are off the grid and sync as soon as we go online.” - Christian Heilmann
When designing applications that run on web browsers, the user assumes that they will not always be available because the user doesn’t carry a PC around 24 x7. The same user has a different opinion when it comes to a mobile app. They want to be able to get to it whenever they want.
Therefore, offline availability or having slow internet connections should not influence how you use the application, much less make it impossible to use it. However, making this experience available is a challenge even for the best programmers.
There are multiple situations to consider when developing an offline application. These range from the way the data will be synchronized to when this synchronization should occur. Then there’s making sure synchronization doesn’t collide with changes the user is making.
Keep in mind that when we develop an offline application, we must consider the extent to which our application should be offline. The offline attribute is not a technical necessity, but rather a crucial usability distinction.
4. Beauty is Device Deep
Another thing to remember in the transition from web to mobile development is that mobile users are way more demanding when it comes to looks. They want things to be pretty. Why? Neuroscience has the answer here. People are more apt to respond to something that appeals to their emotions instead of logic, and beauty always evokes an emotional response. And given the high resolution offered by the latest generations of smartphones and tablets, beauty is definitely in the eye of the mobile holder.
Since their inception, there has been a push to constantly improve the design of web and mobile applications. But lately, there has been a marked increase in attention to detail and how information fits the mobile screen. Grainy or low-resolution images are not a good bet and currently the information is expected to fit properly in the device, be it text or images. So the expectation is that an image will be able to adapt to the size of the screen without losing quality, with the current standard being SVGs.
A website can present a lot of information: mobile apps, not so much. The hand-held devices users carry in their daily lives have reduced screens and cannot compete with 15” or greater displays. Therefore, it is necessary to clearly define, for every mobile screen, how to portray important information and eliminate what could result as ugly noise. No designer wants to turn a user away from an app.
Mobile developers therefore must consider the experience of different user groups. User interfaces should be interactive, intuitive, with each user input resulting in a visual effect. Bonus points if they mimic the device’s native UI.
Because beauty is so relevant for the success of your app, there are several guides to help you with that, however there’s one in particular we recommend.
5. Mobile Goes Beyond the Hand
One of the great advantages of mobile devices is the possibility of taking advantage of other capabilities and mechanisms available. Unlike web applications, with mobile, we can accurately track a person's location through GPS. We can detect a person's movements via the gyroscope and accelerometer and use Bluetooth to synchronize with other devices. This considerably expands the list of possibilities and features we can use in apps.
These increased capabilities can be further extended through communication with devices that we use daily and that are all around us. With fit bands and cardio meters, we can have healthier lives, track our physical activity and more. With Wi-Fi, we can further expand the range of options, by communicating with external GPS, printers and scanners. We can even control simple things in our home like lights and electrical equipment.
Trending technologies like NFC and Beacons play a big role in mobile these days. It's possible to connect NFC or Beacon readers in your laptop. But, it’s way more difficult to fit your laptop in your pocket and carry it with you wherever you go! So in order to keep up with these latest trends and offer the best mobile experience possible, we have to incorporate such features in smartphone or tablet apps. But it doesn’t stop there; now watches, goggles, cars and remote controls need apps. And they need them with these trending technologies, as well.
The range of opportunities on mobile devices is immense. Technology is in a continuous and exponential evolution to take more and more advantage of the information and services we have on devices so they’re just a touch away.
Mobile really is the future. So, changing your mindset from web to mobile development should have tremendous appeal, both as a developer and as a forward-thinker. If you cover the five things in this blog — usage scenarios, performance expectations, design, offline capabilities and extensions — you will be on the right path to a smooth transition to extraordinary mobile development! Of course there’s a lot more to consider, but we just wanted to give you a little taste of where mobile can take you. (Hint: anywhere!)
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