It’s finally the user’s turn

During the start of the fall I was in Potsdam (near Berlin) attending a new conference on mobile application development: Mobile App Europe. Smartphones are already among us for at least 7 years. So why start a new conference now? The short answer is: We are starting to understand the potential of mobile.
Even though humanity is using more and more mobile devices we have to realize that the mobile development field is still quite young. From a technical point of view the applications, devices and platforms have become more mature. iOS is already in the 8th major release. Google is almost halfway the alphabet with android releases. So all is going well there. So why do I call the industry still young?
I think understanding people themselves is still lacking behind. The way users interact with mobile devices is still not well understood by IT and Business. This impedes the full potential of these devices in my opinion. And this will even be more important for smart glasses, watches, thermostats and other smart things that will be connected to the internet. So what’s next in Mobile?

I think the answer was already given in the very first minute of the conference. The user is next! Or as Jens Bussmann from Google puts it in Mobile App Europe’s first keynote: Focus on the user and all else will follow!
In fact, it seems that user interaction is a common thread in the conference. Robin van den Oever and Anna Witteman from Icemobile showed how they involved users into their app development. Hence the name of the session “Let’s Bring the User into a User Story“. They pleaded to incorporate usability testing with users into their development sprints. According to Christian Kaar one of the ingredients to rock your app in the app store is user testing. And I loved the talk of Kathryn Rotondo on how to design apps for kids (of different ages). The grand finale of user focused talks is given by Marc LangeIn his keynote he stated that it is key to understand what the customer’s needs in order to build a great mobile app. According to Marc we get to know the user not by asking them what they want or think they need, but analyze users themselves and measure usage of your mobile application in order to analyze there real needs. I called this process ‘mentalist testing‘ in my talk at the agile testing days in 2013. I’m very glad there finally is a focus on the user, but why this sudden shift? Why do so many presentations speak about it now? Wasn’t the user important enough before?

Stephen Janaway provides a linking pin in his presentation. The magic is happening because of the app stores. App stores provide users a platform were they can either rant or show their appreciation for an app. Such platforms were their before, but these platforms were optional in order to download an application. Where as for mobile most of the apps are downloaded through these mandatory stores. The result is a fast feedback loop from a customer to the people how develop an app. And the best thing is, this information is transparent for the whole market! No wonder that the business is so focused on the app ratings and the comments. The market is finally able to verify products in an effective way!

End users do not tolerate lame applications. I think this has always been the case, but through the app stores the users are now empowered to let the world know. The result is that the user finally is taken seriously in the app development cycle. And you see this reflected in the talks and discussions at Mobile App Europe.
When I asked Marc Lange for an explanation on this sudden user focus he replied the mobile devices themselves contributed to this effect. The way people interact with mobile devices is becoming more intuitive. Instead of a mouse and a keyboard (non intuitive inputs), touch and smart sensors like gyroscopes become the mainstream of input to our mobile devices. Besides, more displays of different sizes are used in different contexts. This changes the way we control our applications significantly.

So do we all need to drag in users into our development process? Well, yes, yo could invite users to test drive your app.  ING did some kind of a usability test with a large group of clients. I think it would be even more effective and fun if you combine it with a bug hunt. During Mobile App Europe I hosted a bug hunt which resulted in 23 bugs found in only 10 minutes!
But you don’t need all of your users to physically attend in order to test whether users will and can use your app. There are already tons of usability test techniques you can use without using to much users. Besides only inviting a couple of users every once in a while already benefits your development greatly. Application Performance Management is another topic that has a big presence at Mobile App Europe and can contribute to users involvement. Talks of Christian KaarSandro Guglielmin, Marc Lange and Matthias Schoen showed that measuring and analyzing usage of mobile apps is becoming an addition to the development life cycle. The information gained from these analyses steer development and business to try features and see if they benefit the user experience and fulfilling business goals faster. I’m sure that’s why tools like Computable APM and Crittersism are becoming popular and should get more attention in the SDLC.

So next time you’re working on a project and haven’t seen an actual user or some usage statistics for sometime remind yourself who you are actually delivering this product to in the end. And know that there are ways to get them involved. As a matter of fact they might just buy your app for it and make you a happy person 😉

Do you (want to) know more on how to involve the user in your development cycle and create great apps? Join our BUXIT meetup and learn or teach. (And if you can read Dutch you can read our latest BUXIT article published in de automatiseringsgids. Download it for free here)

4 thoughts on “It’s finally the user’s turn

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