5 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Mobile App

By Bob Sutor, Vice President, Business Solutions & Mathematical Sciences, IBM.

Bob Sutor, Vice President, IBM Research
Bob Sutor, Vice President, IBM Research

Over the last several years, I’ve been deeply involved with IBM‘s Mobile efforts and now lead that technology area in IBM Research. In the last year we’ve held several hackathons and other events to get more and more people knowledgeable about how to create mobile apps. So with this experience and recent partnership engagements, let me offer five ways where I think people go wrong when creating an app.

  1. You don’t know who your user is or you are targeting too many kinds of users.
    Mobile apps do not need to be all things to all people: you are allowed to create multiple apps that are fine-tuned to each user role. If a user asks “Why is this function here? It doesn’t apply to me.” you haven’t designed your app well. Different apps can use the same backend data but use it differently.
  2. You are not targeting one or two major functions or pain points.
    Classic desktop and enterprise software have hundreds of features, but this does not work well in the form factors, user interfaces, and interaction patterns of mobile devices. Focus on one main task for your app that solves some specific problem or provides some great feature. As that gets refined and gains acceptance, you can add a small amount of new functionality as long as it does not detract from the main mission of the app. As in the first point above, you can have multiple apps and these can use the same backend data.
  3. Mobile is not essential to your solution.
    Mobile devices are portable and have connectivity while you are away from wifi. While it may be nice to have a mobile version of a desktop or browser app, are you really taking advantage of the device’s features? Have you rethought the processes involved in accomplishing a task? While I would (and have) applied for a mortgage through a desktop browser, there is no way I would want to use the same process on a mobile device. Can your app offer significant usability improvements so that no one would want to use the non-mobile version?
  4. Mobile is an afterthought.
    In this case, you have a really great idea for some system, undoubtedly doing amazing analytics with really important data. At the end of describing what you have, probably for an hour, you then say “and we’ll deliver it on a mobile device.” This makes you buzzword-compliant but not much more when it comes to creating a great app.
  5. Your app is not awesome.
    You know when something is awesome and when it is not. If you start using an app and can’t wait to use it again, it is awesome. If you want to use it when you first wake up in the morning, it is awesome. If it becomes essential in your business or personal life, it is awesome. If you check it a dozen times a day, it might be awesome. If you use it once and forget you have it, it is not awesome. Use design thinking and get a good designer to help you. Practice lean principles to ensure that it gives people enough of what they really want or need.

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