Some of today’s most active developers and strategists spoke at the recent Think Mobile Conference about the current and future shape of our mobile experience.
The conference focused primarily on newspaper and TV organizations, but I was keenly interested in how their advice could be applied to museums who, like media companies, are big institutions, slow to change, have great content, want to stay relevant, are looking for guidance about how to succeed in mobile, and who can’t afford to lose money doing it.
Among the media companies represented were NPR, Bravo, Pandora, Associated Press, CNN, Bloomberg Media, PC Magazine.
Here are the big ideas they shared about successful strategies. I’m posting this in two parts over two days.
Part One will cover:
– Start at the Beginning: Define the Experience
– Decide if Your Application is for the Mobile Web or specific Devices
– Find the Wow Feature for Your App
Part Two will cover:
– Don’t Make Your App a Graveyard, Keep Users Coming Back to It
– Ways to Support the Development and Maintenance of Your App
– Last But Not Least, Spread the Word That Your App is Available
Part One: Start at the Beginning: Define the Experience
First, you need to define the experience you want users to have. For museums this can mean defining where their audience will be accessing mobile content. For example, are you delivering content to people who are in your museum? If so, they’re already in an environment that provides a context for your content. If you’re focusing on people off site, then your app will need to give users an informative context and a reason for engaging with your content.
Take into consideration how people consume mobile content. In the words of Paul Reddick, CEO of Handmark, a leading developer of mobile software, people use their devices for time sensitive information, like news; for reference content, so they don’t need to go out to Wikipedia; and for convenience, to access information when and where they want it. If you can look at your project this way, you’ll be able to offer a satisfying experience by providing the right content at the right time, and meet the expectations of your users.
Also, define what you want to achieve with your mobile app and how you could measure success.
Decide if Your App is for the Mobile Web or specific Devices
The general consensus is that while it’s useful, and cheaper, to build a mobile web app, it’s better to deliver your content on applications designed for specific smart phones. Here’s why:
- to take advantage of the rich user experience features of phones;
- to make the content available even when there’s no connectivity to the internet;
- to provide unique content that you can charge for, either from sponsors, or users;
The big drawback is that no one version of your app will work on every phone; platform specific development is required. Currently, not even most big media companies can afford to build apps for every device out there. This means making more choices. They recommend:
- iPhone; iPad – not the biggest user base but this user base downloads the most apps, on average 37 per month (free and paid).
- Android: – number of users and applications rising quickly.
- RIM – blackberry: biggest user base but not much interest in downloading apps; this platform is also problematic because there are so many blackberry devices the software works differently on them, so it’s been hard to develop applications. This may soon be changing. If so blackberry apps will have access to the widest user base.
Either way it’s important to understand how people use their phones so you can design your content to fit their behavior.
Find the Wow Feature for Your App
Everyone wants to figure out how to design it so that people want to use it more than once. Here are some tips, given by Brian Meehan of Sourcebits
- One great feature is better than feature overload, for example, the interactive ocarina on the MIA iAfrica application, the multi-tiled dinosaur portrait/interface in AMNH’s Dinosaur app, or the compelling story line in the Van Gogh Museum’s Yours Vincent app.
- Use the core features of the phone, such as multi-touch, accelerometer, location services to provide rich experiences. These things don’t work on the web.
- Make the app work with wi-fi and 3G (soon to be 4G)
10.User interface really matters. Think about what your users expect and make the navigation clear and simple use.
11.Build in connections to social media like Facebook and Twitter so people using your app can promote the app as they talk about your content;
I would add, as many others did, start with the content. Provide stories people want to read/watch/hear.
Part Two will cover
- Don’t Make Your App a Graveyard, Keep Users Coming Back to It
- Ways to Support the Development and Maintenance of Your App
- Last But Not Least, Spread the Word That Your App is Available