The Mobile App User Experience

by Luke Wroblewski August 12, 2009

"The 1.5 billion downloads thus far from Apple’s App Store clearly demonstrate a user experience in high demand." But why are native mobile applications such a desirable user experience? Three factors come to mind:

  1. Applications by their nature are task focused. They consist of optimized user interfaces for handling certain types of actions and data. In other words, a singular focus on actions like tracking a flight, looking up a stock price, checking the weather -and that's it.
  2. Mobile devices also force software designers to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn't room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize. This naturally forces out unnecessary elements.
  3. Applications can leverage the rich set of capabilities of a mobile operating system. Web sites have a long way to go to deliver really rich UI.

To illustrate this, consider the difference between reading a news story on the Associated Press news mobile application and the same news story on the Miami Herald Web site. The mobile app is focused on one task (reading the story) while the Web site is chock full of extraneous detours, calls to action, and general interface debris. This detracts from the content and thereby the primary task of reading. No wonder the mobile application user experience is in high demand.

app comparison

A similar difference can be seen by comparing the local search experience on a Web site (Google Web search: a very common way of finding local information) and a mobile application (Yelp). With the touch of a button, the Yelp mobile application lists restaurants around me ranked by quality of reviews. In most Web browsers (without HTML5 and the geo-location API which is present in Mobile Safari on the iPhone), I need to type in a query and wade through a set of results. Pogo-sticking back and forth between Web sites and search results to find something near my actual location with a good rating. Not exactly a great experience.

app comparison