Why is the mobile device important?
75% of U.S. workers are predicted to be true mobile sometime in 2011. 23% use mobile device more often than their laptops to access internet. This increased data usage has forced wireless companies like ATT to invest $10 bn in infrastructure. Even Jim Cramer’s hot picks for “mobile tsunami” include mobile tower operator companies. So in addition to regular browsing for news & social media, SaaS applications for official usage will be accessed from mobile more often. The users are likely to expect a similar, relevant and consistent user experience when the SaaS applications are being accessed from the mobile devices. But they might be in for a rude shock.
There are many reasons behind this varied experience. Many SaaS applications have rich graphics, animations and dynamic content. These coupled with image resolutions, multitude of mobile browsers, slower internet speeds, poor designs and lack of context spoil the user experience and impact customer loyalty. Revenues for SaaS based ISVs are largely constituted by monthly/annual subscriptions and customer delight is the key to safeguard these revenues. Hence ensuring a consistent and relevant user experience should be high on priority lists of product managers and technology groups.
Characteristics of SaaS applications where mobile user experience is getting increasingly crucial
The keystones in identifying SaaS products where mobile experience needs to be controlled are — relevance, context and the usage. For example — applications like CRMs, ERPs, financial accounting, sales management, office information, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, field operations, etc. are very likely to be accessed via mobile devices when executives are on the move. Likely content to be accessed includes specific data, reports, pending tasks, approvals, alerts, etc. From the usage perspective — the application while being accessed from a mobile device — should ensure that relevant data gets displayed first and the website/app works consistently across devices. Application users have higher satisfaction ratings when the user experience is cognizant of user expectations, content relevance and the context of usage.
Complexities involved – there are 100 new phones launched every quarter in the market. Each different smartphone accessing the application needs to be handled differently as there are multiple combinations of operating systems, browsers and screen resolution. Internet browsers being used in mobiles need to be tested as well for their capacity to manage rich features as well look and feel. Now the SaaS executives are faced with few options about what to do next — create specific apps, a mobile specific website or a hybrid of two. Let’s explore.
Step 2 — Lead the customer – To increase user stickiness – go ahead and invest in creating an “augmented user experience” where the user experience will be better as the graphics/animations display will be faster. It is important that usage based application redesign is also considered. The customers can always be given the choice if they want to access the full website or mobile site. The trend so far is towards building a device specific apps.
Step 3 — Depends upon your SaaS product’s features – If your application uses rich graphs/animations/heavy graphics/high user interaction – it is highly recommended that you consider step 5. Slower internet connectivity, inability to enter data while out of coverage areas & image resolution issues will only reduce the customer satisfaction.
Step 4 — Are location based services important – Do your customers use location based services from your product (like current location, area code, etc.)? If yes —go to step 5
If the users are not concentrated on a device type and application is not graphics heavy— but the usage context is very important — then opt for mobile specific website. For example — all the official travels for a company X are managed by mycompanytravel.com. Before the tickets are booked, the Operations manager needs to approve it. The mobile version of such a site should involve quick links for pending approvals, redirect approvals, request for more information, altering priority etc. Also financial institutions like banks will definitely have a mobile specific website as they focus on ubiquitous access. There are few limitations as well. Users are being “forced” to remember the URLs of your SaaS product. Also these websites do not access mobile applications like address book, location, etc.
Hybrid usage — a mix of app and browser combines the best of both worlds. They use browser interfaces for web server interactions and also allow access to mobile applications. It allows the user to do more when the graphics being used are very rich and there is lots of transactions with the user. Also it allows the user to continue with limited usage even if there is no signal within the office or remote locations. This allows you to leverage location based services as well. This also allows you reuse tons of business logic and existing code for information processing. Hybrids also support leveraging the specific features of devices with minimum rework. Consider a rich social media application which will need ubiquitous access and graphics heavy interface. So to minimize umpteen number of device specific apps, too frequent data access and leverage multiple widgets – hybrid is the way forward.
We have rich experience in creating apps across platforms, porting them across platforms, creating mobile specific websites and merging the best of both worlds – hybrids.