Best Practices for Building the Best Mobile Experience

  • December 2012
  • Posted By Nitzan Shaer

By Nitzan Shaer

How often do you have an experience on a mobile phone that you describe as “wow”? How often have you felt that you really enjoyed it or got what you needed in 5-30 seconds? Of the 700,000 mobile apps, only a small number meet the high watermark of truly outstanding mobile applications. However, with 2013 being the year when the majority of people will access the content through a mobile device rather than a PC, one would think we should be much further along in creating outstanding apps. Evidently it isn’t easy. At all.

Earlier today I had the opportunity to give a talk (you can see the slides here) and later moderate a panel on just that topic – “Building the Ultimate Mobile User Experience – best practices for creating great mobile experiences”.  The event was organized by MassTLC (Thank you Sara Fraim!) and our panelists, Tom Weisend (Vice President, User Experience, RueLaLa), Matt Cutler (CEO, Kibits), and Christine Perfetti (Director of User Experience, Carbonite), shared their ‘case study’ on mobile solutions and key insights. There was a lot of ground covered, but here are the points that resonated the most with participants.


  • Know thy mobile user. By far the most important takeaway of the day was to get to know who your mobile user is, what they want to do on mobile (very different from desktop) and when they use mobile. Matt shared that he solicits and reviews feedback from every new customer, uses TestFlight to test versions before App Store approval and tracks performance with Localytics. Christine emphasized the importance of ‘testing in the wild’, iterating quickly and seeing how users react to the app in their ‘natural habitat’ rather than in a usability room.


  • The winning platform: iOS came up on top as the preferred development platform, followed by Andorid and lastly Mobile Web. Tom shared that 37% of all RueLaLa business is coming from mobile and he hopes to see that number grow beyond 50% in the not too distant future. The vast majority of this traffic comes to them from iOS; less than 5% comes from Android. He sees Mobile Web mainly as a way to get casual users in, but ideally only as stepping stone to the app. Matt noted the challenge of developing on multiple platforms simultaneously, before you ‘crack the case’ and know exactly what the winning experience is. All agreed that HTML5 has been overhyped and is a challenge to develop on for anything other than the very basic of sites. Indeed, on average, iOS delivers 3 times more revenue than Andoid, even though their install basis are comparable. Recently developers have started to take note, and preference for Android has begun to drop.


  • Performance matters. And top performance matters even more. Users expect instant gratification on mobile and don’t have the time or patience for slow response times. There are many elements that contribute to slow response time – from size of pictures being loaded, database access, algorithms used, or even creation of the ‘illusion’ of fast response times. Matt compared user expectation to one of his favorite singers (see video of Flow here) and Tom described the experience created by using retina-display quality photography for all RueLaLa products.


  • Don’t wait on the sidelines. Christine emphasized how cautious companies can be with mobile. But rather than waiting for your application to be “best in class,” she encouraged companies to release version 1 and to iterate off of that.  Releasing their mobile application helped Carbonite stay ahead of competitors and plugged into their consumers.


  • Iteration. Everyone agreed that their mobile apps weren’t built overnight. They were the process of many, many different iterations. Matt explained for Kibits, they started broadly and then narrowed down exactly the right methodology for making changes. Christine mentioned a test that Carbonite is currently conducting on 10% of its user base. There are new developments in mobile all the time. Your product should evolve and take advantage of these new opportunities.


Many mobile apps face the grim reality of having less than 5% of people open the app 30 days after download. Designing a compelling and engaging mobile app can be hard, but there are many learning’s to be shared and many ways to get to the right result faster.

If you have additional mobile experience best practices to share (if you were at the event or not), please join in on the conversation below. To view the presentation, click here.


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