Nearly half of subscribers that do not currently use the mobile Internet plan to start using it before the end of 2010, according to one study. In that same time period, current users of mobile data services plan to more than double their data usage. The number of subscribers browsing the Web on a mobile device increased 34 percent year-over-year in 2009, with the non-traditional mobile user demographics of teens and senior citizens leading the charge, increasing by 45 percent and an amazing 67 percent, respectively.
The increases in mobile data and smartphone adoption as tightly intertwined. Mass-market adoption in one area drives usage gains in the other. Smartphones provide unprecedented access to the mobile Internet. New mobile Internet users will demand smarter mobile devices to enrich their online experiences. Increasingly, even feature phones are including standards-compliant Web 2.0 mobile browsers, providing a greatly improved Web browsing experience to the more than 80 percent of U.S. mobile phone users without smartphones.
How do mobile developers cater to mass-market smartphone users? Mobile content and data services for smartphones succeed when they cater to broad audiences by streamlining usability, minimizing the network footprint and personalizing the user experience. Mobile developers target the new demographics of iPhone moms, teens, seniors and personal-use. Make it extremely simple for these users to get started and get online with their smartphones.
Here are my top four tricks for designing smartphone apps for the masses:
1. Streamline usability. Make the user experience easy for the mass market. Make it impossible for the user to misuse the application. Test your app with actual human subjects who span multiple demographics.
2. Minimize network footprint. Optimizing the use of mobile bandwidth allows a smartphone app or Web experience to scale to millions of users without clogging mobile radio or WiFi networks. The smartphone may be limitless, but its communication network is still constrained.
3. Personalize the user experience. Adapt Web and application content to target the smartphone model and to react to user behavioral patterns. Use a mobile device database to recognize the device and adapt content to best fit the display size, processing power and user input methods. (Especially, a smartphone app must optimize its user experience for software and hardware keyboards, which can radically affect the user input experience.) Architect your smartphone app to react to user behavior by surfacing dynamic and relevant content that is appropriate for unique users.
4. Adapt to your audience. Use mobile analytics to measure mobile application performance in relationship to consumer demographics. Iteratively improve your application to appeal to your actual and target users.
Gail Rahn Frederick is a mobile software architect, mobile Web enthusiast and instructor of standards-based mobile Web development. At Medio Systems, she leads a mobile software team developing discovery, analytics and search products for operators and publishers. Gail's new book, "Beginning Smartphone Web Development," was released by Apress in December 2009.