Developers can't afford to miss the 'mobile moments' that will define future app usage

Shane Schick

You would think after nearly nine years of marriage I would be used to this kind of thing, but during a recent dinner date with my wife, I noticed a familiar look come over her face as we waited for our entrees.

"I don't know if I'm going to be able to eat much more," she said, glancing down at a plate that had recently been occupied by a salad, some calamari and I don't even remember what else. "I've done it again."

"That's right," I said. "You've over-apped."

Of course, by "apped" I was talking about eating too many appetizers, not mobile apps, but I sometimes think developers are guilty of doing something similar. Instead of getting consumers right into the experience that will bring them the most fun, productivity or fulfillment, they give them the mobile equivalent of too many appetizers. 

Developers may present app users, for example, with a series of notifications they need to scroll through and to which they are possibility expected to respond. They are presented with mobile ads or sponsored content that they need to click through or close before they get to the main menu. They're asked to sign into something, or sign up for something new. 

I don't blame developers for this, of course. A lot of it is probably based on the kind of advice they read on FierceDeveloper or hear at conferences about trying to drive engagement, learn more about their audience and make money. What's kind of funny is that large businesses, even those who are relatively new to mobile, are trying to teach themselves how to back off a little. 

In fact, Forrester Research has been offering guidance in its reports that, rather than bombard their customers or take an all-mobile, all-the-time approach, they should instead look for the mobile moments:

"Because people carry their mobile devices with them at all times, mobile moments [points in time and space when someone pulls out a mobile device to get what they want in their immediate context] are the frontline of customer experience. That's why every consumer-experience-improvement effort, starting now, must include mobile." 

Forrester even breaks this down further to suggest companies look for "micro moments" that focus on much briefer interactions. Instead of a consumer that's engaged for half an hour with a mobile game, for instance, they might only get a handful of seconds if they're watching a Samsung Galaxy Gear or Apple Watch. It uses the acronym IDEA to think through the design of such moments--Identifying what the micro-moment might be, Designing what content or feature you'll offer in response to a trigger, Engineering quick-responding apps and Analyzing the results. 

In some respects, this could make app development a lot more complicated, but it could also be necessary as more brands enter this space and form factors become practically embedded on our bodies. To "over-app" from a design perspective is the easy way out, and probably not sustainable. Even if the app market is continuing to get bigger, the developers who survive will be those who recognize the app experience may be getting shorter and shorter.--Shane