Header image with the text, 'Mobile app or mobile site?', on a multicolored background.

Mobile app or mobile site?

In my most recent post, I described some challenges that amusement parks and their suppliers would face in hiring a designer, developer, or company to build them an app. Namely, these:

  1. Smartphone users don’t all use the same kind of phone. Responsive design helps designers today be better at designing for different screen sizes, but the phones can use several different major operating systems.
  2. Developing for each operating system – iOS (Apple), Android, Windows Phone, etc. – requires developers to have different technical skills.  It is very hard for a developer to cultivate deep specializations in coding for more than one operating system.  One developer with a deep specialization in Apple devices and one with a deep specalization in Android will be more knowledgeable and more useful to you, in most cases, than one generalist developer who knows a little about both, but…
  3. If you hire both the iOS developer and the Android developer, it will cost you more money.
  4. If you hire the generalist who tries to do both, the app’s quality will likely suffer, and/or the developer will not be able to work as efficiently.
  5. If you have an app for iOS but not Android, or vice versa, users of the other operating systems won’t have an app that they can use.
  6. Even if you do spend the money on a larger development team or an app that will work on more devices, users aren’t guaranteed to use the app.

In other words, I understand that you can spend a lot of money to hire a big development team, have them deliver – on-time – an app that works great on almost any device, and still have wasted your money because the app is collecting dust in the App Store. I’ll be describing some of the reasons why apps don’t get used and some ways how each one can be avoided.

The first hurdle: Download

What if you had an app that worked for all smartphone users?

In order to get your prospective customers to use the app, you must first convince them to download it. Sites do this in a variety of ways:

Notifying existing customers

They may call or email existing customers about a new app in their device’s app store. If it’s their device, this strategy can work for customers that you already know about. But still, they need to be persuaded that they do in fact need the app before they just disregard the call or email. And people in your target market who could give you new business but who aren’t already your customers still won’t know about the app this way.

Creating a partial mobile site

They may present a mobile site that has some of the functionality of the desktop site and the app, but not all of it. The 80/20 rule works well in building out features in this strategy, assuming that time and budget constraints don’t allow building out the whole site. But it still leaves users wondering why the mobile site does not have everything.

Displaying an app pop-up

They may pop up a mobile-friendly message over a mobile or desktop site, telling users to download an app. Users don’t click or tap on anything that they think is an ad, and they will find repeated prompts annoying. Even 10 years ago, leading usability experts said that 95% of users react to pop-ups “very negatively or negatively”, which makes it users’ most hated online advertising technique. This still holds true today.

Displaying the desktop site on mobile devices

You may give users a desktop site which tells them about an app. But then users have to deal with a page layout with too much information on it for their screens. They probably need to pinch and zoom to find the button for downloading your app from the app store.

But do these work?

Recent Deloitte and Comscore studies have said that one-third of smartphone users in the UK and the US, respectively, no longer download any new apps in a typical month.  And 9 out of 10 app users don’t spend any money in apps.  Fewer than half of all smartphone buyers in 2013 were buying their first smartphone, and the “wow” factor of downloading new apps for a new device wears off in as little as four months.  Paid apps have an even harder time with this.

The second hurdle: First-time use

What if you did get them to download the app?

Most apps aren’t used at all

Your site still needs to persuade them to actually use it. If your app is downloaded (not even opened) at least once from the App Store, you will have done better than 60% of all other apps. 95% of all apps are used for less than a month and never opened again.

Don’t make them commit too soon

The design of the app itself must keep both existing customers and possible customers in your funnel. If your app begins with a screen that forces users to register for an account they don’t already have, you have already presented another hurdle in getting users to use it.

The problem with passwords on mobile

Passwords, in particular, are a problem with registration. Since smartphone users have to type on a smaller keyboard, they make a typo on every fifth character, on average. Suppose that a new user creates a password with 8 characters, a standard that most IT organizations consider secure enough. The chance that they get just one character right in confirming a password is therefore 4 in 5.

The chance that they get an entire 8-character password right is 4 in 5 to the eighth power, equal to 65536 in 390625: only about 1 in 6. And that’s only if they can remember the entire password for signing back in.

Digital products often don’t know the difference between a mistyped password and a forgotten password, so they just tell users that their password is wrong. An error message that merely says that the password is incorrect misleads users into thinking they forgot the password. At this point, most users will abandon.

Bring users up to speed, with the right amount of information

Similarly, even if your app doesn’t make users register, it still may leave them confused when they first open it. The app might not give users what they need. Or it might not make it possible to show them where to find it. Or the benefit of your app versus a competing (or built-in) app might not be clear. Or your app might give users a first screen that is really only for advanced users – or screens that treat them like they’ve never seen a computer before. It may need a tutorial and not have it – or have a tutorial that is irrelevant or too long for users to remember anything.

If users are confused about anything, their chance of abandoning keeps going up. As Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and David Cronin wrote in About Face 3, users do not want to remain beginners very long, and our designs should cater to the vast majority of users in a product’s target audience: the perpetual intermediates.

The third hurdle: regular use

Your app probably won’t be in heavy rotation on a user’s phone unless it truly provides value that they can’t get anywhere else. According to recent research, 55% of smartphone users used less than 5 apps per day on their phone.

For example, many park map apps are in the clear here for guests that prefer using their phone to carrying around a paper map. But they won’t be accessed if guests leave their phones in a locker or in their car – or if your guests ignore your pleas and lose their phones on roller coaster with them.

For users who wouldn’t otherwise open your app again to routinely use the app, the app has to give them another benefit that they will definitely use. This could tie in to other touchpoints of your park’s service. For example, users of your app could have a rewards system that gives them their choice of several discounts on items in the park in exchange for using a check-in service to tell their friends that they are at the park, or sharing a photo of themselves at the park for the park to use on social media.

When to opt for a mobile app over a mobile site

When your users need integration with other features in their phones

Some features of a smartphone cannot be accessed by mobile websites.  For example, mobile websites cannot access a phone’s camera.  Support for website access to push notifications is increasing but still limited.  iOS 8 allows websites to have access to a user’s location, which Apple has been allowing since at least iOS 6.

Most apps at least allow users to access them while they are intentionally offline or unable to access Wi-Fi or mobile data.  Offline First, a new initiative which follows Mobile First design strategies, aims to design and develop apps which can be used offline.  In contrast, mobile websites are only accessible while users are connected to a wireless network or able to receive mobile data.

When many of your users would benefit from time-sensitive information

The 2014 IAAPA Attractions Expo, which I attended several weeks ago, set a record with over 30,500 amusement industry professionals in attendance.  The official IAAPA Expos app  allowed users to have quick access to a wealth of information about the trade show: exhibitor profiles with links to each exhibitor’s website, maps of the trade show floor, a list of all education sessions, press releases that came out during the event, and push notifications reminding them of upcoming events.  IAAPA has had mobile apps for their Attractions Expos every year since at least 2010.

While there were some changes I would have made to the app, I did find the app’s content quite relevant.  I used it every day on the floor to find new exhibitors to visit, and it cut down on the time that I spent searching.

There’s ROI in developing an app for a large event like this because attendees commit hundreds of dollars, minimum, to attend the Expo, and there were over 30,000 attendees.  Over 19,000 were registered as buyers, and anything that would help make buyers more productive with their time helps maximize the chances that everyone will get what they need from the show and that the exhibitors will find it worthwhile to return next year.

Furthermore, the IAAPA Expos app helps users be aware of IAAPA’s other trade shows.  With the same app, users can learn more about who was at the most recent Euro Attractions Show and Asian Attractions Expo.

When your app’s purpose matches why users use apps

According to a recent New York Daily News article, mobile users now spend 88% of their time on their devices in apps, compared to 12% of their time on mobile websites.  The article says that 60% of all media that users consume is now via mobile: 52% from apps and 8% from websites.

A recent Harvard Business Review article describes how average users use their time on their phones.  46% is devoted to relaxation or entertainment.  19% is for interacting with other people, while 12% is shopping and 11% is for managing finances, health, and productivity.  Preparing for upcoming activities, reading the news, and self-expression each account for less than 10% of mobile users’ time.

Web apps: a hybrid solution

Part of the problem for organizations which want apps is the overhead associated with app stores.  App stores have to approve apps before they will make them available for download, a process that can take weeks.  Apple maintains a lengthy list of reasons why apps may be rejected.  These include the following:

  • Apps that don’t work
  • Apps that “do not provide any lasting entertainment”
  • Apps that are only for marketing or advertising
  • Apps that use notifications to send advertising
  • Apps that require personal information from users (including their email address or birthday) in order to function
  • Apps that don’t comply with Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines

Web apps do not have to go through an approval process.  Also, Apple takes 30% of all revenue generated by an app.  A web app can keep all of its revenue, but it can’t be listed on the App Store.

Test, test, test

Therefore, taking the app route successfully requires testing with users at every possible point where they may drop out of the process: the landing page which tells them about the app (which needs to be mobile-friendly, or users won’t stay on it), the listing in the app store, the initial screens of the app, routine use, and any sort of checkout process within the app. And the app has to be designed and built with a solid understanding of users’ goals, the tasks that they want to perform in accomplishing those goals, and their frustrations.

Successful apps like Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and just about every successful mobile game that you can name have done well because they understood what users needed, delivered on it, and kept on testing with users.

If you don’t go the app route, your site will still need to do an effective job delivering on users’ actual needs. I still recommend frequent testing with your users in either case, but at least an effectively-designed mobile site will have several hurdles eliminated: getting people to download the app and convincing them to use it. Then you just have to deal with the engagement and conversion problems that desktop sites also need to tackle.

I agree with Econsultancy’s conclusion based on Deloitte and Comscore’s recent research: the percentage of web traffic coming from mobile devices is now far too big to ignore, and it is getting bigger.  So when developing a native app is needed, it becomes a “both-and”; you would need both a responsive website to cater to mobile traffic and a native app to draw upon capabilities of the phone.

Even if 88% of smartphone time is currently spent in apps, the website provides a very important “shop window” (Econsultancy article’s term) for helping prospective customers to perceive your brand.  But for most businesses catering to other businesses in the amusement industry, a responsive website by itself will do the job.

Let’s talk about mobile strategy

Part of design thinking involves making sure that a digital product you are considering creating is the right solution for your business.  In a brief, free consultation or a more extended discovery phase, I can help you determine whether a responsive website, a web app, or a native mobile app would be an effective solution for your business.

Use this contact form or send me an email to start discussing some ideas.  You should also follow @DavidParmeleeUX and @ThrillAndCreate on Twitter for more useful articles about how to improve your product’s user experience.

Blog header image which says, "Why go mobile?", in front of a colorful background.

Why go mobile?

In November, I met many new contacts in the amusement industry in Orlando at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, an annual trade show which is the biggest such event in the amusement business. Some of my contacts there had had their websites redesigned to be responsive or mobile-friendly. Others had not yet but had plans for this to happen, and others were unsure about whether or not they needed to do this – or were convinced that they should not.

I’ll begin by describing general reasons for any site to go mobile. I’ll conclude with reasons why sites with a relatively small number of prospective customers should go mobile too.

More users are accessing the web from mobile devices than ever before.

 

Even a year ago, many countries had more mobile phones currently in use than they had people. The distinguishing feature of smartphones over earlier feature phones is that they have operating systems.

But, as of May 2013, 63% of adults who owned any cell phone used it to go online, and 34% of those users went online using mostly their phones. This percentage is substantially higher in upper income brackets, such as those of park executives. (In fact, I saw several park executives doing business on their smartphones at the recent IAAPA Attractions Expo.) Now toward the end of 2014, these percentages have only increased.

Users spend most of their smartphone time using apps, which are designed for their phone.

Several months ago, Nielsen research estimated that adults who use Android phones or iPhones spend 65% more time using apps on their phone than they did two years prior. An app’s design will typically be tailored for the device displaying it, such as an iPad or iPhone. I have occasionally seen iPhone apps display on my iPad as though they were on a giant iPhone instead, but these were commonly development builds rather than proper releases.

The only times I’ve ever seen an app give me a screen that was not optimized at least for a mobile device were when the app opened a webpage in my phone’s browser and it wasn’t a mobile-friendly webpage. Users find the experience of being taken from a mobile app to a mobile site jarring enough, but being taken to a desktop site on a mobile device is an even more jarring experience that forces users to pinch and zoom to learn anything meaningful from a webpage.

The smaller mobile screens cause users to have more trouble understanding what they are reading. Jakob Nielsen reported that many mobile users were more “visibly angry” when confronted with a page full of content that they could not understand than desktop users were. They were less interested in reading whole news stories and just wanted to grasp a story’s main points and move on.

Mobile is taking on a more significant role in the workplace.

In a piece for TechCrunch, Roger Lee observed, “Some 95 percent of knowledge workers own smartphones, and they reach for them first to do all kinds of tasks – from email and document sharing/management to meeting planning and videoconferencing.”

The reach of mobile is rapidly extending into industries which did not think they would have it. The increased mobility of workers across industries may contribute to this. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median number of years workers have been with their companies in 2014 is 4.6 years. Workers ages 55 to 64 had been with their companies an average of more than three times longer than had workers ages 25 to 34.

Switching industries is also quite likely, at least for workers with technical backgrounds. Many job postings and hiring processes in software development stress having skills in particular programming languages and frameworks and consider domain knowledge or experience in a particular industry to be a “plus” or “nice to have”.

My career attests to this. It began in retail while I was in college. After graduating, I worked on a large financial application. After this, I switched to the satellite industry and then to the call center industry. The reason for switching industries so often was that this was where jobs were available in my area. At the time, I didn’t want to relocate. When given the chance to start my own company, I considered what I most wanted to do for a living and for whom. This led me to the amusement industry a little over 2 years ago.

So don’t be surprised if our industry’s composition drastically changes. The amusement industry contains dream jobs for many people. Those who enter an industry mid-career bring their experience, processes, and expectations from one or more previous industries.

Parks’ sites are increasingly going mobile.

At the IAAPA Attractions Expo, I spent four full days on the trade show floor, networking with people all over the industry. I was able to meet several of my clients and other recent contacts. And I realized that the busiest booths at the show often belonged to ride companies. Trade shows are their most major setting for landing new deals. Often, these deals happen with parks or park chains.

More and more amusement parks have seen the business case for making their site mobile-friendly. In response, they have redesigned their sites to be responsive or have created new, separate mobile sites. As trends in the internet catch on, users’ expectations change accordingly. Companies expect their business partners and prospective customers and vendors to adapt to changing trends in technology. If you run a ride company that makes innovative rides and your site doesn’t look innovative, that is a poor reflection on your brand.

If your amusement park, ride company, or consultancy has not made their website mobile-friendly, why not?

Mobile forces you to focus your selling on the most important aspects of your product or service.

Responsive design problems are typically tackled in one of two ways.

Top-down, or desktop-first, design approaches date back to web design’s less complex, desktop-only days. A page that is designed top-down will be prototyped in a tool like Axure RP or Balsamiq, or comped in a tool such as Photoshop, to have its full desktop-only layout. Designers traditionally build desktop-only sites using a grid with either 12 or 18 columns on it. This allows a good deal of flexibility on a desktop screen, but mobile becomes an afterthought: often, content just keeps getting pushed down the page or hidden as less important.

Bottom-up, or mobile-first, design approaches involve first thinking about how a site should look on the smallest screens. This forces the designer and the client to think of the site as a billboard that users are reading along a highway – where they only have a couple seconds at most to understand a site’s message and make a decision. Consequently, most nonessential content is stripped out of a mobile site designed with a mobile-first approach. These page layouts tend to not be very busy at all, and in working their way up to larger screens, designers are able to use progressive enhancement techniques to increase the wow factor on devices that can handle it.

Desktop users benefit from responsive designs too.

Mobile-first design helps simplify a site and make the way through its sales funnel clearer. Progressive enhancement allows the mobile experience to be enhanced appropriately while maintaining the site’s “billboard” mindset. This results in sites whose purposes are easier to remember.

B2B sites that offer a wide range of products or services have to think about how to best present those for mobile users. User experience designers may use card sorting studies so that users can help organize the products in a way that makes the most sense to them, simplifying their journey through the site. These studies influence the whole structure of a website or web page, so they benefit mobile users and desktop users alike.

A mobile site eliminates several hurdles present in developing native apps for mobile devices.

The first is on the business side: the cost to develop and maintain an app that works for all smartphone users. The vast majority of smartphone owners use either an iPhone or an Android phone, although a smaller percentage use Windows phones and other kinds of devices. Each of these types of phone uses its own operating system, requires different skills to develop apps for it, and would therefore require developers (or, depending on the size of your app, development teams) with different skills in order to develop and maintain it.

Development teams that lack the budget and resources to develop an app for every type of phone counteract this by focusing all of their efforts on one platform – most commonly iOS, the operating system used by iPhones and iPads. But this leaves users of other platforms wondering if an app will ever be available for them. If they don’t have an app they can use, they are forced to interact with your brand digitally using only a desktop site. This is at best an inconvenience – switching devices to complete their tasks – and at worst, lost sales for you from an entire range of users.

If you had an app that worked for all smartphone users, you still would not be guaranteed a return on your investment. You would have to design your existing site and your App Store listing in a way that convinces users to download it. From there, you would need the app’s onboarding process to ensure that users will use the app that they have downloaded. And you would need the app itself to be useful enough to users to get them to use it on an ongoing basis.

Each of these is a big hurdle for any app in the App Store. If you’re committed to having an app designed – or if you’re still not sure about what benefits you will get from a mobile app versus a mobile site – the next post is for you.

Why go mobile if your potential customer base is small?

IAAPA is known as a trade show which puts smaller businesses in the amusement industry on a relatively equal footing with its bigger names. While smaller companies may not have the largest booth in the most prime location, they are still respected organizations that make a positive difference in the industry year after year. Some smaller organizations even sponsor the trade show.

Still, hiring a UX designer is not cheap, and in an ideal world, a UX designer would not work alone and be fully responsible for both designing and building a website. The assigning of design and development tasks to at least two separate people makes a project more expensive. Even if they individually make less money from a project because less of their time is involved (assuming a time-based or fixed-price pricing method), they do require time to work with one another on the project. For example, the designer will need to meet with the developer to make sure a proposed change in a design is technically feasible. Therefore, while the cost to a client is not the same as hiring two contractors for the life of the project, it is still more than the cost to hire only one.

However, there are still reasons to go mobile even if your customer base is small.

B2B projects typically involve more money.

Many ride companies produce relatively few projects per year. Companies who work on the most expensive ride projects often get a great deal of business from trade shows and have a waiting list. So what would be in a redesign for them? They may be able to use a UX design project that focuses on mobile as a way to learn more about their prospective customers just as much as a way to provide their prospects with another way to engage. And in utilizing mobile touchpoints, the value adds up. If you want to land more projects and use your site to this end, the ROI is substantial.

It provides an opportunity for scaling your business.

Similarly, more work allows a company to hire more employees and contractors. It allows the company to become bigger. For example, some companies in the amusement industry recently mentioned at IAAPA’s education sessions that they use mentorship to develop the next generation of leaders in the attractions industry. Some ride companies have formal programs for allowing young ride enthusiasts to pursue their dream jobs designing rides. If a company has more work, these programs can be helped.

It reinforces that you provide good customer service.

This September, Salesforce reported that how the customer feels they are being treated influences 70% of buying decisions. Customer service is well-regarded as important in retail and in the amusement industry, and it plays a pivotal part in how people perceive brands.

Digitally, investing in usability is a form of investing in customer service. Organizations want to maximize their ROI from their digital products. To this end, they design their sites to optimize conversions, email their lists about new products, and often employ live chat teams to answer customers’ questions about products. Companies that were previously not known for good customer service have had to invest in making their sites more usable because not doing that costs them sales.

Similarly, giving users a site that works on their devices is a form of courtesy. Users come to their site with the mindset of, “I want to learn more about this company and perhaps buy from them.” Giving them a desktop-only website that is a huge inconvenience to navigate and read, or telling them outright that you won’t serve them on the device they are using, gets rid of their goodwill and often causes people to leave your site – possibly for your competitor’s.

It shows that you want the sale, by meeting prospective customers where they are.

Imagine that you are in a mall with several large department stores. Both stores have products that you are interested in and advertise that they won’t be undersold. They are giving you the same items at the same price, and you are the same distance away from both.

However, one store is known for how its customer service gives adequate attention to every customer. If a customer is indecisive, experts are on hand – but not annoying – to help them choose and buy the item that is best for them. They honor customers’ requests if they don’t want to be bothered while they are shopping, but they converse with the customers who want that and are helpful to anyone who has a question. Their staff sets their sales floor before the store opens each day, and throughout the day, they make sure that the floor is neat and that all merchandise is easy to find. They use good customer service to remove barriers

The second store has employees that are just punching the clock. Their sales floor is ill-prepared; sizes aren’t in order, and the right item in the right size could be in any of several different areas of a department. Its employees are indifferent, spending most of their day talking with one another or texting their friends. Customers are expected to fend for themselves. If they look in one stack of clothes for a pair of pants in their size and their size is not in the pile, they pick a different style or leave the store thinking that the store doesn’t have their size: a lost sale.

A website that is mobile-friendly and designed with a user-centered approach says, “I care enough about you to present myself carefully and meet your needs. If you’re not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask. I won’t make you fit your questions into my format in order to get a helpful response.”

A website that is not mobile-friendly or not designed with a user-centered approach says, “I really prefer users who use this other kind of device. If you have a question, pinch and zoom and maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for. But I’m not promising that I have it, and I don’t know where anything is. Good luck!”

What’s next

Later this week, I’ll explore reasons why you should consider a mobile site versus a native app.

Work with us

I would love to discuss new design or evaluation projects – especially if I saw you at IAAPA, but even if I didn’t.  You can use this contact form or email me at info@amusementUX.com.