SXSW Report: User Experience and Cross Platform App Development

Friday, March 18, 2011

At SXSW Interactive, Carlo Longino (@caaarlo), Community Manager for the Wireless Industry Partnership (WIP) talked about designing the user experience across platforms. You can View Carlo Longino's slides on Slideshare.

"Cross-platform" today means more than the difference between an iPhone and an Android phone. There are many device types, ranging from desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, TVs/set tops, GPS units to cars. True cross-platform UX means accounting for all of the various ways users will access your content. Longino said, "There are two choices; ignore multiple devices (which many are doing), or you can account for them." It isn't simply about adapting content to specific screen sizes.

Devices, Users, and Context

Longino smartly broke down the topic into three realms of understanding; devices, users and context. User behavior varies between devices thanks to a plethora of factors including screen size, weight, input options, and wireless options. Users will behave differently with a heavy device that they have to lug around than they would with a smartphone or a tablet that are relatively easy to carry and hold. Developers should seek to understand the users themselves. Who are they? Do they have certain characteristics or tendencies? Will those attributes affect how they want to use your app?

User Experience persists across contexts.
Device + User + Situation = Context

Longino defines context as "device + user + situation." When designing for a particular context, ask three questions; who is using the device/service, what are they doing, and how are they doing it? For example, when TED released its talks to the web, they considered the various ways people watched video on the web based on time of day, and changed their thinking from delivering web video to delivering engaging video content in the medium of the user's choice.

Architecting for Multiple Contexts

Longino focused strictly on UX, but at KeyLimeTie we understand that cross-platform considerations extend into application architecture. For one large client, KeyLimeTie CTO Chris Grove architected a full web service and REST API with the business logic living on the server. The website, which became the first application to use the service, existed as a thin client that called the API. This works for many types of applications, though it's worth noting that it is difficult to implement on apps like interactive games that require a significant amount of processing on the device.

Building an API first offers developers the most flexibility for designing and developing cross-platform apps that serve a variety of contexts. It becomes easy to implement new apps—even for device types that don't yet exist.

Summary

Consider that multiple devices, user types, and situations exist. Be aware of the various contexts through which people will use your app. Remember that users are real people with real needs, behavioral predispositions and stories, so you can design apps that maximize utility for them. Once you move to development, architect your application so you can develop interfaces for multiple devices efficiently; consider building an API and web service so the business logic can run server-side and create thin clients for the web and various mobile devices.

If you are looking to build a mobile app or cross-platform experience, call KeyLimeTie at 630.598.9000, and make sure to follow KeyLimeTie on Twitter.

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