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Developing great mobile applications for today's technology
There is no question that mobile devices are now a ubiquitous part of our lives. Although we can be obsessed by the performance of these devices, we also take for granted the applications which run on them, and how critical they are to making the experience special - or simply frustrating.
We are fortunate to have been in a decade where we enjoyed the luxury of great computing power and high connectivity on our desktops. This has caused us to expect a lot from the computing experiences we interact with. In contrast, a number of you will recall the 80's or 90's where things were quite different, when computers struggled to keep up with the requirements we demanded of them.
The mobile world is deja vous to those of us who have been in the industry for a while. Mobile phones have lower processing power, lower resolution displays, less memory, and communicate over networks which can be as slow as the 56k modems we used to have to connect to the Internet.
Today, 2G and 3G mobile networks are the conduit which allow us to access and share information. Yes, mobile phone carriers are trying very hard to improve things. 4G is on its way and promises vastly superior speeds, and, yes, there are approaches which involve utilising wireless services at large venues to increase bandwidth. But don't expect mobile networks to be providing reliable, fast, consistent speeds just yet...
The performance of phones is also significantly limited by the battery technology they use. This limitation means most modern phones tend to last one day between charges. Start using them to listen to music, a GPS or just making frequent calls and you can expect to charge every few hours.
However you look at it, the power requirements and network constraints will ultimately dictate our mobile experience for some years to come.
So what does this mean for developing great mobile applications within the bounds of today's technology? The answers lie in looking back to the techniques used 10+ years ago when developing for desktop computers. Developers were forced to squeeze every ounce out of the systems they had in order to get the performance they were after. Making every optimisation available to minimise the requests for information across those slow networks.
Developing highly optimised mobile applications does come at a cost. There is substantially more time required to tune a mobile application for performance and minimised battery usage and the solution needs to contend with many more environmental factors.
So, what is the impact of getting this design process wrong?
We have all become accustomed to fast performance. Our tolerance for systems that are poorly designed or run slowly is severely limited. And we don't tend to give mobile applications a second chance if we have a bad user experience the first time. Generally, we won't be back... To ensure your audience continue to use your mobile application, you need to make sure you get it right. And get it right the first time.
Gerard O'Connor is the Chief Executive officer of CDAA, a digital agency based in Adelaide with offices in Melbourne and Sydney. CDAA provides website design, development and digital marketing solutions.
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