Your computer is no longer the only device with which you access the internet. In fact, studies are showing that it's not even the most common device you use to access the internet. And when even an internet connection is no longer a constant, there's barely any line left between web development and native development for most agencies.
As we're trying to transition through this sea change -- arguably the most significant shift our industry has seen since the internet itself became a household fixture -- each step takes us into new terrain. And we're not all moving at the same pace. Some of us are walking, others running. The tech companies seem to have built themselves jetpacks. In fact, Rey Interactive CTO Kevin Cogill believes they are powered by arc reactors.
In theory, HTML5 is the new sheriff in town. It has the potential to become a common denominator that can provide rich experiences across a wide variety of devices. But even as we're finally starting to understand and define HTML5 actually is, it can't do what a native iOS or Android app can do, nor is it in any position quite yet to unseat Flash as the backbone of the banner advertising industry. And then there's Facebook, which is essentially splintered into two different experiences, and no one's quite sure if or how Zuckerberg will be able to bring all of Facebook's third-party platform apps onto mobile.
Whilst reminiscing about the good old days -- when things were simpler -- Kevin and I came up with two challenges we know for a fact those servicing clients in this area will face, as well as some words to the wise on how to address them head on.
One app doesn't fit all
Here's the number one biggest challenge we see, in development, today: A client will tell us they would like an app. They will say it needs to be "mobile friendly" and look good on iPad. They want some social elements, and it should work reasonably well in all common browsers, including IE, because that's what they themselves (or their clients) use. We nod, as that sounds like an absolutely reasonable request, and we take on the project. Then the client sends over exactly one set of PSDs, with the all of the elements fit tightly together like Tetris blocks, in one painstakingly crafted presentation the size and shape of just one device. Kevin promptly cringes.
You see, it is very, very difficult for many of us in this industry to scale our visualization skills out exponentially, and design not just one user experience, but all of the user experiences implied by such a request. The window to your app might be tall, it might be wide, it might be huge, and it might be tiny. It might be served via FiOS, it might be served over a mobile connection with a limited data plan. The user might be navigating with their finger on a touch screen, or maybe with a mouse. How will swipe gestures work on devices where there is no such thing as swiping? Not daunted yet? Let's talk Retina displays. Yeah, they're on laptops now. Oh, and can it be a Facebook app? Wait, how many different versions of Android are there? Stop the madness.
OK, OK, I'll stop. The point here is that one app doesn't fit all devices. To stay wise -- remember that and convey it to your agency partners and clients who ask you for this version of impossible. The industry is just not there yet. Maybe after a few years of hammering these challenges out, we'll get one hot summer where it's all pretty easy, before we're all putting chips into our brains that will give us our email and entertainment, which will simply implant all relevant data directly into our neurons. I can't wait to see how those apps will be QA'd. If you are pitching new business or bringing in clients to your shop, you must manage expectations in this area, or you will find yourself in over your head quickly.
Identify and spend time with your targets
The best thing you can do for yourself, as a brand or agency, is to pick your battles wisely, and respect the fact that each of them may have to be waged differently. It's by no means impossible to build a responsive web application that can flex from a tall iPhone screen all the way out to a 1440x900 HD display, but you're really going to have to think about every movement. Not just of your content, but also of the user: How will they navigate with their finger? How will they navigate with a mouse? How will you keep their phone from having to download too much, while maintaining a rich experience on their laptop over WiFi? Solving these challenges are what we're built for, but we all have to do a better job of identifying them and being very precise about requirements.
Your client wants a social element. Stop, and just ask yourself (and then them) "why." Is it because you want to be able to say that your app was social? Or is it because you want your app to augment a genuinely social experience that gets people talking about your brand? Yes, I know, the former, but the latter isn't all that hard, if you want some extra credit.
So, how do you get wise and really drill into your target? You do this by being real. Picture real, actual people using your app. Think of someone you know in (or near) your target demographic. Talk to them, if you haven't in awhile. I don't need to tell you to look at the hit viral campaigns that blow up your Facebook feed, but if you're going to copy them (no judgment), you must understand that it's usually the variables, and rarely the formula that resonates with people. When a campaign is really successful, there's always that "x factor," that something that touched, amused, or impressed a large percentage of all that caught a glance of it. So if you're going to steal, don't steal the successful campaign's formula. Go find someone inspiring, funny, or super smart. Steal their ideas, and then try plugging those into the formula that worked.
AJ Vernet is CEO and founder of Rey Interactive.
Kevin Cogill is CTO of Rey Interactive.
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