Wednesday, 28 March 2012

best app for weeks... pair app

Pair app - iPhone only to date, forgive pun ;) and what it means for social mobile networking

I have just come across a great app via allthingsd, and one that hits on something I have been mulling over for a while - the diversification of social networks, which will be another post at some point. Basically Facebook and all are great, but Foursquare clearly tapped a niche market for smaller groups, mostly close friends checking in to places where they may not always want their wider friends, bosses, parents even seeing; bars, pubs as well as just boring places like where you prefer to have coffee...
Social Network Interaction by frequency / Audience © Christian Borrman 2012
How social networks fit by frequency and audience
I had for a while being playing with the idea of creating other "circles" and funnily enough called them circles, and at the time I was working with my colleague Keith on a mobile social network for a client (so have a witness!) and then Google launches G+ with circles as its main theme. While for many it seems popular to be a detractor of G+, I see it as firstly a great development and move away from certain monopoly in social networks, but secondly, 100 million users in a very short time is endorsement that the concept of circles is a winner, as just because a big company does something, if it does not get taken up, then the idea was not that great after all. Now many people get disheartened when you had a good idea and it becomes a bigger success than you could ever imitate, and of course, you know you have to come up with a new name now; but having someone as big yet dynamic as Google thinking the same way about concepts that are not in the public domain, is in fact the best endorsement probably even above imitation: it means you are on the right track!
Pair is a great and welcome addition to apps and social networking
So along comes pair, targeting the smallest of circles - the couple. In a very short time it has had a lot of downloads, which is a good sign, especially given its woeful engagement process (more on that in a minute) and I very much hope it is a success before its USP just gets copied by the big boys, again... yes you know who you are! I am sure everybody has had a moment where Facebook, the comments made or the time spent on, has become an issue between couples... Pair could make a difference.

In terms of an app, it has killer app potential, however lacks (at the moment) some key emerging app success criteria, namely great engagement. Part of Path's appeal, as described in my list of iphone killer apps is its seamless UX in terms of engaging users: Pair is very different: the background is a plain colour. Whilst this is no biggie, and better than a pastiche image, a well chosen image or a more inviting colour or gradient like a big blue sky or a large green field.. anything would be better than Dorset Cereal's box olive green/blue... however as a whole it is not that bad, it is not crowded, does not have irrelevant feeds and does have the right concept, its just the execution needs a bit more thought and/or the input of someone else....
Engagement process had me scratching my head though...
 I say this as, a) I do this for a living, but even if not, b) like many people now, I have been here a few times before and so know what good looks like!,With pair I was left scratching my head as where to start, and ended up pressing "sign-up" a few times, then entering my details and pressing "sign-up" a few times, and it was not until I pressed next (my last option before abandoning the app!) that I got an error message telling me the way forward... where Path has a clear centre stage"enter your name here first" then there is the engagement process
Finding out how to progress via an error is not great UX, but easily solved
Another annoying element was that it asks for a photo, but could only take a photo, not chose from library: this a) places you in a terrible situation of there being a slim (in my case very) chance of me being as presentable as I would like at the point of engagement! you have to remember that much mobile interaction happens during what is referred to as "downtime" - waiting for a plane / train, having your first coffee(s) of the day, in bed still, etc, etc. very few of which will have you looking your best. moreover, b) it means you can only use the front facing wide angle, low res camera - even George Clooney does not look good pictured with a wide angle lens 5cm from his nose... There is more, it then asks you to send a video, which while seeming a bit "speed networking" or worse "speed dating" I persevered only to get a warning that its only 15 sec. This should be referenced above the recording as an instruction, not relayed as an error message. As it happens my video was done by 15 sec, but the app had only recorded the first 13 sec...

So, I don't want anyone to think this is bad, its actually very good, they are small floors in what is otherwise still a gem, and can be changed with a bit of thought, a slight change of flow and some instructions which will no doubt come from incorporating feedback over the next few days, weeks and months... and I really, really look forward to see how it progresses. On a more fun not, also how it may diversify: maybe an app called "trio" for the French market, "dozen" or "centernar" for the more promiscuous and "uno" for the divorcee or dumpee in denial :)

I shall be adding more in the coming months and pasting updates via my G+ or the Virtuser Google+ and Virtuser Facebook pages, so please like us on Facebook and +1 us if you have found this article interesting, useful or helpful.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

mobile commerce strategy: via apps or mobile internet

I read an interesting article today courtesy of Tomasz from Moben Google+ which is similar to a question that I was recently by an old client and friend over a glass of wine; whether mobile apps or mobile internet are winning the m-commerce war... it is an interesting question, however I fear one that if you try to answer it by questioning 5,000 in a particular time and place will not give you the right answer. At best it can give you an indication for that time and place, but one which will quickly expire or may even be relevant only to that period of time, in this case the holiday season that they used, where shopping habits may be very different to usual.

You then have the issue of mobile perception, where if you ask people which apps they use the most and which sites they use the most on mobile, the answer is completely different to actual usage, this has been the case since the first WAP surveys of 1999 and the gap just get's bigger as phones get smarter and the app stores and mobile internet sites grow

So rather than  try and answer a question, which requires a bit more work, and we have done for retail organisations by looking at actual usages and trends for that product, in that location at that time, let's look at the general questions that need to be asked to get to a strategy, which at its heart is an extension of the age old "native vs. HTML" debate elsewhere on this blog.

The first things to bear in mind are:

  1. people want to shop on mobile and tablets, and they do so even on e-commerce sites despite it taking two or three times as long, as other convenience factors play a bigger part here (location, access to pc, dead time waiting for a friend, etc).
  2. The key is to make it as easy for your customers and your organisation as possible, not fulfil some wonderful strategy or vision. This is a key fail point for most innovation we take over or try to rebuild as innovation consultants there is no point having a great solution (ridiculous things I have heard are "we have a V8 billing engine we need to leverage" or "we have a mobile strategy (designed for another purpose) that dictates apps but not mobile internet") or the other "we have just implemented a mobile CMS....
  3. Mobile usage of apps vs. mobile internet varies wildly over time, location, handsets sold the previous quarter, the mobile network your customers are on and more: so just looking at your server stats, which is a start, is not enough to keep abreast,
  4. The two give different experiences: an app can easily remember your preferences over multiple devices, use interesting animations and access deeper APIs more easily (though html5 is changing this to some extent)
  5. users will change over time: mobile internet is a first point of engagement, and many customers may be happy with that, and app gives a higher level of engagement, but only for some users on some devices.
So what does this mean? in short, some examples: if your stats show the same users buying over ipad, PC, and an iphone, and iPhone/ipad app is going to work now, but what happens if their next smartphone is an android or windows smartphone? what happens if they like your product so much they recommend a friend but he is not on that platform? 

You then also have to remember that the frequecy with with which people engage over mobile can vary over time, users may use your mobile app for example in the summer months and then the PC over the winter as they spend dark days inside with a PC. It is harder to come back to an app after a few months than it is to a website - the app may have been deleted, the phone replaced, or worse, the app needs updating which uses the 5-10 minutes the user had put aside to buy something from you and you lose the sale:
Mobile apps can be more difficult to return to than mobile internet
In short, if you do not have an m-commerce solution today you are missing a trick. The best practise for this should be html5 and be formatted to give the closest experience possible across all devices, smartphones and tablets, and if possible it should not be too different from your web experience. This can be done by clever use of tabbing and some UI and UX testing. However, this is no good of the solution does not allow you to do the same things you can do on the web.
A mobile internet site is the tactical start, but one that just mimics your web is not likely to work
Don't get sucked into doing an app because there should be "an app for that", fragmentation is rife and the last thing you need is a successful app and base, tied into a an app that is huge and can only be downloaded over wi-fi. This is great for the Ikea app, for example, which you download once like getting a huge quarterly catalogue, however for a supermarket, like Ocado I would question if this is wise, especially in the post iPhone era of Android and increasingly windows mobile taking market share. The chances of getting the same experience with a native app are low.

Don't just mimic one of the browsing methods from your web. here wiggle have just take the horizontal filters from their website, as they probably fit better than all the vertical filters, but their stats will show that at best only a proportion of their web customers use this method of finding products, and so leaves a big proportion of their base dependent in the cold and dependent on the search box, which I they check their web stats most likely do not provide the best customers at all! 

Don't resort to a "view all" tab, people do not browse on mobile, you would be better having a "go to main site" or at least "see offers" or "see most popular" here...

Do think and look at the stats of what people buy on mobile, in the case of wiggle it will be forgotten essentials on a Wednesday night to arrive in time for the weekend ride, for example, so try and focus your site around that, if that is the case

Do keep abreast of usage and see what users are doing, and keep abreast of mobile trends in retail, you can very quickly get outdated

Do keep an open mind and look at what is best for your customers and your organisation. if the UX is ten times better in theory one way but requires a complete redesign of your systems,  you risk creating a mobile channel that is successful, but with a terrible ROI and so is doomed!

I shall be updating this article as more interactions with clients and colleagues provide more scenarios, and will announce those changes here at my Google+ and my company, Virtuser's Google+ or like Virtuser on Facebook for updates