The 'good enough' mobile app is on the rise -- but develop with caution

A so-so mobile experience can suffice, as long as developers understand what does and doesn't matter to the user

It's a truism that one aspect of the consumerization of IT is that users expect better experience from apps and other technology systems than IT is accustomed to delivering. Tech needs to be as easy as a Mac, iPhone, TiVo, Amazon.com, Nest, and so on if users are to choose it. Apps designed by engineers for engineers won't cut it any more.

But also true is the notion of "good enough" that Web apps and services especially have fostered, as have many mobile apps, where people do what it takes to transact and ignore a suboptimal experience to get something free or fast. It's a somewhat contradictory phenomenon, but there are some principles to determining when "good enough" really is good enough and when a rich, intuitive experience is required.

[ 10 tips for creating compelling mobile apps. | The end of the CIO as we know it. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today.]

Take the example of the recently announced BT MeetMe conferencing service that features spatial audio using Dolby technology, to create the illusion that speakers on an audioconference are sitting in the same room as you, even in different locations in that room, as if you were all around the same virtual table. That sounds like a superior user experience. But I bet that most companies won't pay extra for that audio experience, even as we all complain about crappy teleconference audio. Why? Because the crappy experience is good enough for the value the teleconference provides.

If you travel, you know how poor the user experience is on most airline and hotel sites -- many don't work well on mobile devices or even have mobile versions. If you use a travel management app like TripIt, you see quickly that outside of its neat little borders, it's a Wild West of poor user experiences when it sends you to checkin pages. We'd all like a good user experience, but most people don't fly enough to care enough. Thus, you get airlines like Southwest and AirTran that don't bother supporting mobile users with a mobile website or app.

It's a different story when it comes to an app or service you care about. Music and radio apps tend to succeed if the user experience is good, for example, assuming the music selection is sufficient, of course. People get very particular about how their note-taking apps work. Even browsers can engender personal loyalty. The key word is "personal" -- these apps are extensions of the person, and most people think well of themselves and want the things that refect them (their gadgets, their cars, their stereos, and their apps) to reflect that virtue.

Other apps need good user experience to succeed from the provider's point of view. For example some airlines, like United and Delta, offer a rich user experience across devices because their large business clientele cares a lot. They want convenience and the sense that they're special customers -- and not just from having a card colored like a precious metal.

Amazon.com has a great example of a mobile app that makes it way too easy to shop, which means people do shop on their smartphones -- a lot. The user experience is wonderful. Compare that to, say, the Lowes app, which focuses on in-store selling over user experience, thus ignoring the person at the center of the transaction. For example, it makes you select a store before taking any other actions, even window-shop or check your purchase history. Furthermore, in the event you don't have your physical Lowes card with you, the Lowes app can neither act as a substitute (the similar Walgreens app does this) nor let you scan in your purchases to the Lowes tracker.

In other words, you can get away with "good enough" for things people don't care much about and use only when they must, but you must provide a great experience for the things they do care about or that you want them to use a lot for your own benefit. The trick is knowing which situation applies. As the airline example shows, it can vary even within an industry.

This article, "The 'good enough' mobile app is on the rise -- but develop with caution," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies