[Photo courtesy of Rob Enslin]
As an investor, I get to see several new companies every week. User experience is a key dimension of success for these companies, especially the mobile applications companies. I can't tell you how many times I see UIs that are completely cluttered and don't get to the crux of the value-add fast enough.
Now the end-user perspective: In the last few months, when at home, I'm now spending more time on my mobile device than on my laptop. Whether it's for checking email, doing a web search, getting directions, reading blogs, looking at photos, listening to music etc., my mobile device has become my preferred computing device. So I asked myself why this was the case. Here’s why:
Other than the need to use a smart/super-phone such as the iPhone or Android-based device with a 3G or Wifi broadband connection, the key is that the app immediately gets me to the #1 value-add of the app... and in most cases, I don't need two fingers - just my thumb. Some examples:
- Flixster: The first menu item is "Movies I Want to See". Instant gratification.
- Google Reader: Get me to a directory where I can read all unread posts or post by category immediately. Great.
- Pandora: Immediately starts playing the channel that I was playing when I exited the app the last time. Perfect.
- INRIX (full disclosure: Venrock is an investor) - on the iPhone, as soon as I launch the INRIX Traffic! application, it zooms in to where I am and displays road traffic flow and incident data around me. Great.
- Gowalla: Immediately finds places around where I am and lets me check in. Done.
- Echofon: Shows the latest stream of tweets in reverse chronological order immediately. Sets my screen at the oldest tweet that I haven't yet read. Perfect.
I wish some of these mobile apps did a better job (I still like them a lot, though):
- LinkedIn: The latest release of the LinkedIn iPhone app is a huge step up from what LinkedIn had before. What you get now is a laundry list of functionality to pick from e.g. "Status", "Connections", "Favorites", "Invitations", "Themes" etc. Why not pick one of these items as the first screen to drop users into?
- Tripit: The mobile app is fantastic value-add. However, why not drop me into my current trip immediately instead of showing me a menu listing all my trips?
I think the wired Web has spoiled developers in one dimension - it's given them too much real estate to play with and, as a result, they have crammed too much into that interface. An example is Flixster - unlike the mobile app where I immediately can get to 'Movies I'd like to Watch', on flixster.com, I have to list all the movies I've rated and then sort them by categorization - it takes too long and is very frustrating. The main value-add for me on Flixster is to get to the 'Movies I'd like to Watch' list. So effectively, Flixster has put a giant barrier between my in-the-moment need and its gratification.
The moral of the story: If you're building a mobile app, think carefully about what this one key value-added feature is and immediately get your users to that portion of the app when they launch the app. Preferably with no clicks but at most one click.