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developerWorks  >  Lotus  >  Forums & community  >  Inside Mobile Design and User Experience

Inside Mobile Design and User Experience

Thoughts on mobile and social business applications, design, and user experience, by Chris Reckling.

Usually I resist these end of year blog entries, but this year I couldn't any longer. (Also, having 2 weeks off at the end of the year, beginning of 2013, didn't help. I did get some great skiing in at the site of the next SkiLUG event in Stowe, VT!) And, since I am not working on the Connect OGS this year, I should have more time, right?

In 2011, we made 44 updates to mobile apps and in 2012, there were 66! This includes new apps, major updates, minor bug fixes, server updates, and even a new IBM Mobile Connect. As you can see below, we also transitioned to the new blue icons to go along with the branding updates. Feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, with the only complaint per se would be to release more, faster!

Image:Looking Back, Looking Ahead

If you have followed this blog at all, you know that I have usually posted whenever there was a new app released. Therefore, I won't rehash the entire release timeline for the year - you can always go back to past articles for that info. Instead, let's look at some of the trends we're driving.

Trend 1. User Experience

It's my blog, I'm the mobile UX guy, so I get to choose what's first! Seriously, design and user experience have been trending for several years now as a priority. IBM has even appointed a General Manager of Design! On mobile platforms, you really cannot avoid it. For my team, it's an opportunity to focus on core use cases for each of our products. It allows us to streamline the experience without sacrificing the most important functionality that people want from their mobile devices. Our products have a LOT of features - we make choices about which ones to place in the foreground and which to de-emphasize, based on our user research. Many of you have contributed to our research and for that, I thank you!

In 2012 we also made a concerted effort to organize our design consistency efforts into documented, reusable patterns. One goal was to make similar functionality the same across products and platforms. For example, each product has a login screen of some sort and account management. There are font choices, colors, segmented controls, tabs, backgrounds, icons, and more. There are essentially 2 dimensions of consistency to handle: one is consistency across all the different IBM produced apps; the other is consistency with the mobile platform. To put it another way, we have to be true to the platform while retaining the IBM-ness of the app. People notice, especially when it isn't done right. (Google recently got some press for their new focus on iOS app consistency, too.)

In 2013, we will continue to push on this consistency effort. While we made a lot of progress, we are not done. Per usual, going from design to implementation can take a few development cycles to complete. I am also looking forward to Android 4.x being more widely available in the market. It is a huge advance over Android 2.x but it does require rethinking (and recoding) the user experience to match it. We were able to do that on the Android tablets, but not on the phone yet across the board. (Sametime Meetings actually has 2 UIs depending on the platform, to optimize for either 4.x or 2.x phones.)

Image:Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Trend 2. Enterprise Security

Security and management of mobile devices is certainly something customers demand before deploying any apps to their users. I believe Traveler has been so successful for email because some basic management features have been built in from the start. It's also dumb simple to deploy the clients to users, whether they are on iOS or Android. In 2012 we extended that management to the Connections 4 mobile apps and server. You can use a simple admin console to allow or deny access and do remote wipe of the app or force a password. All data on the device is encrypted.

In December, IBM shipped an update to IBM Mobile Connect, which provides VPN services, among other things. The client part of this is built into our mobile apps, so another option for admins is to set up Mobile Connect on their servers and use it to access Connections, Domino, Sametime, or whatever enterprise application you need. You can provide access to these apps without exposing your entire intranet to mobile devices.

For more complete mobile device management, IBM has Endpoint Manager, of course.

Trend 3. Tablets

Just yesterday, The Next Web had an article stating that tablet shipments would overtake laptops in 2013! We've also been seeing a lot of demand within our enterprise customers for tablet support (mostly iPad). In 2012, we produced new apps to support both iPad and Android tablets. Traveler Mail, Calendar, To Do, and Sametime (Meetings and Chat) had brand new designs done for Android. For iPad we updated the Connections, Chat, and Meetings apps and produced a brand new Traveler To Do app.
In 2013, we'll continue to enhance the apps we already have and maybe even introduce some new ones (come to Connect to find out and see some prototypes!). The tablet has a lot of potential for us to think differently about how to present our products, so we really want to focus on that.

This picture shows Sametime and Traveler apps for Android tablets. You should be able to see the family resemblance.

Image:Looking Back, Looking Ahead



Trend 4. SmartCloud

The cloud is becoming more and more important. While many customers want or need to host their own deployments, many are also looking at how and where they can utilize cloud services to extend or enhance their in-house applications. In 2012, on the mobile front we began to produce a single app that supports either on premises or cloud deployments of our products. In 2013, we need to keep adding to that. For example, Connections mobile in the cloud only supports Files right now. Look for some cloud-first activity soon (and again, probably talked about at Connect in a few weeks).

Thanks to everyone reading this blog and using our products! Your feedback goes right back into our development cycles, so don't hesitate to leave a comment here, on your own blog, on twitter, or facebook. We read them all!

Did I mention that I have the best team!!

Chris Reckling
Mobile UX
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Chris Reckling | 9 January 2013 12:45:00 PM ET |

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