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Going Mobile? Vital Mobile App Design Considerations Developers Need to Know Now

Mobile App Design Considerations are Front and Center

The mobile platform is a game changer. By 2013, Gartner Research predicts that mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide, with an estimated 1.82 billion Internet-enabled mobile devices in use then.

As a website operator, you’ll need to adapt your online presence to account for visitors increasingly interacting with your brand through the lens of their mobile devices.

Why Should Businesses Prepare for the Mobile App Shift?

For one, mobile devices raise new trust issues that you must overcome – consumers are hesitant to share personal information or make purchases using a device that can be perceived as less secure and private than a home computer.

Additionally, since they’re packed with technology like microphones, cameras, and GPS, and they’re always on and always with people, mobile devices offer expansive new possibilities for information collection and data privacy concerns, raising red flags for many consumers.

If a user is playing a social game on their phones and is asked to share their physical location, they may want to know:

Will the game operators share their physical location with advertisers or make it available to the general public?

What if we want to make our locations visible only to a select group of friends?

Can we do that?

Consumers have begun to ask these questions, and the need for transparency will only increase as we push forward into uncharted territory in the mobile app space.

Mobile Devices and Location Technology

Of all the technological features currently packed into modern mobile devices, GPS is perhaps the most important feature to consider incorporating into your mobile website or application.

If users entrust you with their location data, how can you use that data to enhance your product or service?

  • If you have physical stores, you can enable mobile users to find the nearest store quickly.
  • If you’re an e-commerce site, you can provide them with immediate shipping estimates based on their physical location or coupons to visit a store nearby.
  • If you are an online services provider, like a social network or gaming site, you can present users with more relevant online advertisements specific to their physical location.

Most advanced mobile devices sold today come equipped with location-aware technology capable of pinpointing users within 30 ft of their actual location.

Mobile app developers have harnessed this technology in various useful and innovative ways – from social apps that allow users to locate their friends when they’re out and about to photo apps that geo-tag pictures.

Location tracking is yet another way to target offers and advertisements to consumers, and we’ve witnessed the substantial impact targeting can have.

Online ads based on a user’s browsing activities are more than twice as effective as non-targeted online ads.

Location-aware technology allows marketers to increase the relevance of their programs, making the shoppers’ experience richer, more relevant, and more timely.

But mobile location technology also comes with its challenges.

Location and Data Privacy Concerns

The harms are real, and businesses thinking about leveraging this location technology would be wise to understand the risks and take appropriate precautions.

Consumers are predictably wary about the implications of sharing their location information with online services and apps.

A recent survey found that more than half of location-enabled mobile users are worried about a potential loss of privacy.

To successfully incorporate location-aware mobile technology into your products or services, you must provide consumers with privacy protections and assurances.

Win their trust, and you will win their business.

A Carnegie Mellon Study reveals what mobile device users are concerned about:

  • Who is collecting their location data, how it is used, whom it can be shared with, and how long will it be stored?
  • Being spammed by advertisements or offers based on their physical location.
  • Accidental or unintentional sharing of location data resulting in annoyance, embarrassment, or danger to an individual’s safety.

Consumer concern over personal information collection and use by a product or service can lead to that product or service’s downfall.

When it comes to one’s physical location, many consider this data especially sensitive. A company’s mistreatment of it could quickly result in consumers abandoning the offending product or service.

Consumer Location Data and Safety

Knowing someone’s location allows you to push contextually-relevant information to them.

But identifying relevant information can be challenging, and even relevant information can be a problem when it’s pushed in excess.

If consumers consider your use of location technology “spammy,” they will simply tune out or drop your product or service altogether.

In the wrong hands, an individual’s present or future location is dangerous information. Stalkers or thieves can use this data to harm individuals and their property directly.

Physical safety aside, many individuals do not want others like their co-workers, neighbors, or even family at times also know where they are.

A times, the revelation of this information could lead to embarrassment or even the loss of a job or relationship.

How Can Web & Mobile App Developers Mitigate Location Data Risk?

These risks can be mitigated if a company employs mobile location technology best practices.

Provide Transparency and Accountability

Privacy is not about locking information down. It’s about creating a trusted environment where your users can share information at their discretion and according to their individual preferences.

Providing your users with transparency and accountability fosters this trusted environment and increases consumer loyalty to your brand.

Consumers want to know what’s going on behind the scenes with their information, and they want to know that someone will be held accountable in the event of data misuse or compromise.

Offer Consumers Choices

Choice means asking users permission to use their location information before you collect it.

Don’t make your data processing practices opaque – it should be clear to consumers what’s happening with their data once they click allow or submit.

Provide Short, Clear, Timely, Privacy Notices

It also means ensuring that adequate consumer redress mechanisms exist for consumers who want to remove their location data from your databases.

And finally, give your users expansive choices when it comes to sharing their location data – they should be able to share it with the world or only their most trusted friends if they so desire.

Mobile User Interface Friendly Websites

Many companies are also creating optimized websites for mobile devices.

Gartner predicts that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device worldwide.

Although many of these sites currently behave as extensions of the non-mobile website, they are increasing in sophistication and are starting to be optimized for the mobile device not just in terms of look and feel but also in terms of features and functionality.

Some mobile websites even allow users to purchase and download apps or provide features that are just for mobile device users.

Are you taking advantage of this growing medium to reach your users?

There is very little doubt in anyone’s mind that the iPhone has revolutionized the mobile industry and has forced the hands of everyone – from carriers to application developers – to be more creative and innovative to stay in the game.

Another Apple advantage is that it requires its developers to follow its human interface guidelines.

More and more web and mobile app developers follow these guidelines regardless of whether they are in the Apple store, which contributes to the continuing appeal of the mobile device.

Tasks performed on mobile devices tend to be tactical. Your users have a very specific need, and they want to accomplish their goal in the easiest and fastest way possible.

Tips for Designing the Best Mobile User Interface

  • Compact screen size requires a minimal feature set optimized for common use cases
  • Fonts and font sizes are used to show hierarchy and importance
  • The ability to only see one screen at a time means features must be progressively displayed
  • Large buttons are used to make interactions actionable
  • The commonality of the mobile form factor means users expect adherence to mobile design conventions – interactions should be conventional and consistent
  • Limited content real estate means help text creates unnecessary clutter – the interface should be simple and intuitive so that the user needs little instruction

You need to do more if you want your mobile app or website to continue to attract engaged users.

  • What can a company do when a user is presented with dozens, if not hundreds, of similar, competing mobile applications?
  • How can a company help a mobile app user feel comfortable sharing their location and personal information with the app?
  • How can you help users trust mobile forms that require them to share information such as their name, password, email, or physical address?
  • How can you help users trust mobile platforms linked to their financial accounts?

Users Look for Privacy Policies

A study by TNS Global Market Research of more than 1,000 users in December 2009 revealed that more than 75% of users look for the presence of a privacy policy when giving personal information on a website.

By following good mobile privacy policy design principles, you help your users feel more comfortable sharing their information on your mobile app or website.

The best mobile app design principles are applied by anticipating user reactions to each step performed while interacting with the business.

Ensure that every step in the process is easy and intuitive and works to alleviate any concerns.

Place a link to the Terms of Service (TOS) and privacy policy in a visible location so your users can quickly obtain answers to their questions and move to the next step.

The same applies to forms that require users to submit personal information. Users frequently overlook the privacy policy and TOS because of their length or subject matter.

However, the information contained in these documents can reassure users who may have questions or concerns so they feel more confident interacting with your website or mobile app.

By reducing the time a user has to spend reading and understanding the information in these documents, they can quickly get back to interacting with your app or continue the process of submitting their information and moving on to the next step.

Note: not following these principles could mean the user failing to complete the registration process out of fear, confusion, or frustration.

Best Practices for Developing User-Friendly Mobile Privacy Policies

  • Use icons for each major section to help users quickly identify the key components of your privacy policy. The icons should be relevant to each component and not be selected for the sake of providing a graphical icon, and large enough to make interactions easier on a small device.
  • Progressively display content to allow users to obtain answers to their questions more quickly. The first screen can summarize the key components of your privacy policy. Often that summary is enough to satisfy a user’s concern or address their question.
  • If the user wants to view additional information, they should also be able to access the detailed, full-length privacy policy through the summary page.

Once you incorporate these mobile app design principles, you should see greater form completion percentages, high levels of interaction, and increased user trust.

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