The Wild, Wild West of Mobility – The Growing Mobile App Market

By Timothy J. LaFleur

Tim shares his experiences as an instructor for the Certified Mobile Asset Management (CMAM) course 

A tremendous mobile boom has taken place over the last couple years, leading towards the eventual succession from the PC-centric era to a mobile-centric era even in the business setting. At this point in the progress, the evolution has been marked by three major progressions within the mobile ecosystem and app (application) market:

  1. The availability of productivity/business types of mobile apps
  2. The functionality and ways to access those apps
  3. The creation and design of business-specific mobile applications
1: Availability of Productivity/Business Mobile Apps 

Productivity and business apps available in the market have had a marked and tangible evolution over a relative short amount of time. At first, the app market was flooded with apps to play mindless (yet really fun) games. Starting in 2009, the app flood branched into apps to make social networking easy and efficient on mobile devices. This consumer-style utilization or “consumerization” dominated the market. What started appearing over time were apps compatible with and that mimicked key Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel or PowerPoint. When paired with the ability to manipulate corporate email on these devices, serious interest in the business use of these mobile devices and apps became a market-mover. As soon as legitimate public cloud networking options became available, the need for office suite applications really became intense.

2: App Functionality and Access

As mobile devices and the concept of business mobility gained traction, the simplistic capabilities of office suite applications took a gigantic leap forward, both with core functionality and cloud integration. The idea of working from anywhere at any time also inspired traditional PC software applications to offer a mobile component. These apps were mobile companions to the desktop version and leveraged the username and password security already in place for the web-based user interface. The ability to access that account profile and software from the desktop at work, from the tablet while making business calls or from the Smartphone while an employee is “off the clock” began to prove the ROI of mobility. The increased productivity gained while an employee killed time waiting for a child to finish soccer practice appealed to executive teams everywhere.

3: Business App Creation and Design

The next major trend that is emerging is that businesses want to create and design apps that are specific to their business model, their customers and their employees. The ideas for these apps run the gambit of purposes and functionality.

Native apps can of course be designed to deliver tools and processes that are specific to a business. Or, the native app can be used as a sales and marketing tool, supporting customers with information or access. These apps can also be an alternative to the VPN/Intranet paradigm to help keep mobile employees informed of things in the organization. As time marches forward, I would imagine that we will see more and more organizations putting things into a native app or, at the very least, optimizing employee business websites into a mobile friendly version.

Native App Design Best Practices

Understanding how our mobile-using society has grown to date provides insight into the average mobile user’s expectations. With native app design dominating current development, best practices surrounding that development may not be well understood. The IT Asset Managers creating the mobile management processes for the ITAM program need to understand some of the pitfalls that are occurring. With my experiences in app design (including the IAITAM ACE app), there are definitely some best practices that I have discovered that I always try and follow:

  • Audience: Always keep in mind who your end user is and what they are expecting from the app being designed. This mindset includes the overall aesthetic look and feel of the app as well as the core functionality that the app will provide.
  • Multiple Mobile Operating Systems: Make sure you take into account the different mobile operating systems that are part of the supported mobile environment (i.e. iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows etc.) as well as the hardware. If the business program only supports Android mobile devices, then you can tailor your application to some of the hard and unique rules that Android possess. However, when designing an application for a variety of platforms, you need to understand the unique qualities that each platform possesses to ensure that the app functions for all supported platforms. This problem escalates when designing an application for the customer base or prospects because there will be no limitations on types of devices and the app design will have be constantly in flux to handle ongoing changes.
  • Think about screen size: Are you designing an application for a phone handset that can range from 3.5” – 5” depending on operating system, manufacturer and individual handset? Or are you designing this application for tablet-size hardware where the screen size can range from 7”- 10.1” and above? Or will this application be used on a mix of all screen sizes? The answers to each of these questions are a factor in determining how to organize the layout of your application.
  • Think bigger and better: Always give the end user multiple reasons to use your application. One of the worst things that an application designer can do is to make a single facetted app that doesn’t give the end user multiple opportunities to experience what apps have to offer. For instance, I like to include a customized RSS feed of industry specific news so that the end user will go back in and read daily. I also like to create a page that serves as a survey tool so that the organization can randomly poll users or be leveraged as an order form. All of these opportunities can be included within the app. These are just a few suggestions and I am sure that you will think of more ways to engage and support the end user than just these few examples.

As you can see, we are entering into a time of extreme growth and opportunity. This growth has been kicked into over drive due to the mass consumerization of mobile devices along with the portability of all the aforementioned devices allowing individuals to carry one or more smart devices with them almost 24/7. This on-demand access gives organizations an unprecedented way to be in front of their customers, potential customers and employees by being on their mobile device. However, the app battle that must be won is to remain installed on their device and not falling victim to the “uninstall.”

The design best practices should help increase the success rate not only of the app itself, but for the management program. An IT Asset Manager aware of the trends and informed on the progress to date is ready to bring the mobile revolution to the management of assets. The IT Asset Manager has to think about the scope of the mobile library and the device types to be supported as much as the native designer. Processes have to be robust and flexible to deal with the chaos of a new and unstandardized market. In addition to the process expertise, the IT Asset Manager as a risk mitigator is going to be very important, asking the right questions so that a decision is made that balances risk and cost against app capabilities appropriately for the business.

The good ideas that have made a difference in your IT Asset Management plus the good ideas for designers are an excellent start on mobile asset management.

About the Author

Timothy LaFleur is the Mobility & Global Events Manager for IAITAM.