Luke Wroblewski – Navigating the Mobile Landscape

Sean Carmichael

October 5th, 2011

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Mobile is the “hot topic” these days. It’s increasingly at the front of designers’ minds. In a world where the power and capabilities of the device in your pocket are so great, the possibilities become somewhat astounding. The mobile landscape is changing so rapidly that it makes developing a formal strategy to “figure mobile out” all but impossible.

Luke Wroblewski is at the forefront of the mobile design movement. He suggests that it’s better to put something, anything, out there and see how it fares. Excessive planning in the mobile space leads to missing opportunity after opportunity. Taking advantage of the market as it is today and the capabilities of these devices can lead to the refinement and evolution of your product.

Luke will be conducting a full-day workshop full of his thoughts on mobile, including why you should design for mobile first, at the User Interface 16 Conference, November 7-9 in Boston. Learn more about Luke’s and the other 7 full-day workshops at UIConf.com.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…today, [mobile] devices have a lot of constraints based on the ergonomics. They’ve got a small screen. In many situations, you’re using them in environments where there’s other stuff going on. You’re not hunkered down at a desk for an extended period of time.

You may be at home on the couch watching TV, or you may be in a line somewhere, or passing some time in, hopefully, not the car. So there’s these constraints. Low bandwidth is another constraint. And when you use the devices, you familiarize yourself with what those constraints are.

But there’s also a lot of opportunities in terms of capabilities. And if you use lots of apps, you can see, how are they using the accelerometer? What have they done with front and rear-facing cameras? How are they using location in order to deliver information? How are they using the video port, the camera, the audio input? All those things can open up new ideas about how to take advantage of those capabilities in your service.

This is a device that you can use pretty much anywhere and everywhere. You have it with you all the time. Coverage of networks is way better than it’s been. And so, through the fact that you have it with you everywhere and anywhere and you can pull it out and access a network and access assets, all these new use cases emerge that you didn’t have before…”

Tune in to the podcast to hear Luke answer these questions:

Do you design for mobile? Share your thoughts with us in our comments section.

Recorded: September, 2011
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Full Transcript.


Jared Spool: Welcome, everyone, to an episode of the “SpoolCast”. Today I have the amazingly awesome Luke Wroblewski, who is going to be speaking at UI16, our User Interface Conference.

It’s coming up this November. He’s going to be giving a full-day workshop on designing for mobile, a really hot topic. And he is the guy I know that knows the most about mobile, and I’m very happy he’s here today.

Hello, Luke.

Luke Wroblewski: Hello, Jared. Thank you for having me.

Jared: Thanks for being here. So let’s just get into this. I’ve got all these clients now, who are pushing hard on their mobile, and they’re really trying to get there, but it’s really hard to figure out what to do right.

There are some crazy things that people have been trying to do. What are some crazy things that you have seen organizations do with their mobile implementations, particularly organizations that should have known better?

Luke: If they’re doing small, crazy things, at least doing something, I think that’s OK. The biggest issue I’ve seen is people running around and making PowerPoint deck after PowerPoint deck, trying to figure out their mobile strategy.

Jared: I saw that! I saw a guy on the plane. I’m sitting in the aisle, and then there’s someone in the middle, and this guy’s in the window, and he is editing up a PowerPoint deck of a mobile app.

And then, every 20 minutes, taking his laptop and passing it to the woman in the window behind him. [laughs] And then they would have some conversation, and then he would come back and he’d make more changes to it.

Luke: Wow. So there you go. And real-time, on the plane, even.

Jared: On the plane. [laughs]

Luke: It’s gotten to the point that I make this joke when I go and talk, especially at corporations. I say, “The worst thing you could be doing is just sitting around making PowerPoint.”

And pretty much inevitably, I always get this nervous laughter and someone coming up to me after the meeting: “You just nailed what’s going on over here! How did you know?”

[laughter]

Luke: I know because it’s pretty much what everybody’s doing.

Jared: Wow. And so what’s so nutty about that? On the surface, it sounds like a great prototyping tool.

Luke: [laughs] Well for building an app within it, sure. But when you spend all your time trying to imagine the future of mobile and planning accordingly and not taking a move until you’ve got everything nailed, then you’re just missing opportunity after opportunity right now.

And frankly, if you look at the space, I think it’s changing so dramatically day after day that any strategy, long-term, you put together is likely to get pretty disrupted.

Just looking at the past few weeks, right, we had HP getting out of WebOS, killing their tablets. We had Google buying Motorola. We had Steve Jobs resigning.

It was just bombshell after bombshell after bombshell in terms of what’s going on in mobile.

And so I think, when you get in this mode of all you’re doing is planning and things keep changing on you, you just keep planning, planning, planning; you never actually do anything.

So what you’re describing, where the guy’s actually designing an app, in whatever prototyping tool he needs, I think that’s great.

My concern is more along the lines of, “Hey, we’re planning out this large architecture. Hey, we need this long-term road map.” While I’m not completely ragging on planning, I think it’s very, very possible for organizations, especially bigger organizations, to just get stuck in that phase and never get out of it.

Jared: Yeah. So the alternative is what, then?

Luke: The alternative is just to put something out there and see what happens. If you actually look at the big companies that are currently doing well in mobile, that’s what they did.

So I keep hearing stories of a small, rogue, or interested team just went out and made an app or a mobile website, and all of a sudden it started taking off, and now that has gained a lot of momentum in the company and they’re taking off from it.

So one of the, perhaps, biggest examples is eBay. eBay was one of the first ones to pull together an iPhone app. And that was essentially a product manager, designer, and they worked with outside contractors just because they were really interested in it and wanted to make something there.

And you look now; eBay has 50 percent of mobile commerce in the US, and 70 percent of that is coming from their iPhone app.

At least as far as I hear the stories, I wasn’t there, obviously, this wasn’t some huge effort in terms of strategy and planning. It was rolling up your sleeves, making something and getting it out there.

I heard a similar story, for example, from Expedia. For a long time, I used Expedia, the travel site’s mobile app as an example of “Look at how focused their mobile experience is compared to their desktop Web experience.”

And I heard from someone after one of these talks that that app was created in their R and D Department by, again, two or three guys who were just really interested in, passionate about the space, and now they’re taking a lot of what they learned from there and applying it to the desktop and other places.

So this “just roll up your sleeves and do something,” I think the type of market it is and the type of environment it is lends itself a lot more to that kind of effort.

Jared: The folks over at Disney, there was an article recently published that had this visualization of all the Disney mobile apps, and there’s like 35 or 40 different Disney mobile apps.

Is there a point where just getting out there and doing it and having all these different parts of your organization just trying something gets in the way, and that maybe you should be sitting back and saying, “Well, do we have a strategy here?”

Luke: Yeah. Well, once you hit the point where you’ve actually done something. I guess I should clarify. I’m talking about people who are trying to, “figure mobile out.”

Jared: Right.

Luke: There’s organizations that have been in there from the beginning and have done a ton and they’ve learned a lot.

And once you’ve learned a lot and you understand, if they’ve got 35 apps, they probably know which ones are being used. They probably know where they’re getting new customers, where they’re making money, which platforms are working for them.

They have a crap-pile of information upon which they can start to build a strategy.

Jared: Right.

Luke: Whereas if you’ve never done anything, and all you’re doing is thinking about the re-architecture, which is going to take you two to three months, you’re not as well-positioned to actually develop a strategy because you don’t have any data, you don’t have any examples; you don’t know what people are actually doing with it, and so on.

And I do see, actually, a lot of companies are in the state that you’re talking about, in that they tried a bunch of things, released stuff, and now they’re looking at, “Well, how can we streamline this a bit? What are ways we can integrate this a bit more? What are the services that are actually sticking? What are the things that are not sticking?”

Jared: But the fact is, they did it, they got out there, they made it work for themselves.

And they didn’t really concern themselves too much whether they were leaving this sort of legacy trail of apps that they could be retiring at some point or disbanding.

Luke: I suspect a lot of those apps, to be frank, come from marketing organizations. And if you look at the trail of micro-sites emblazoned on the Web, right, you see a similar trend.

It’s the same kind of thing. People treated apps a lot like that, in that they would basically say, “Hey, the iPhone app is a new micro-site. Let’s just put them out there for a promotion or a service or a movie, whatever.”

But I’m also pretty confident that Disney has some core applications, representative of the brand and that are targeted at specific age groups and things like that.

Jared: Yeah, they do. They have some guides for moving around the theme parks and a restaurant finder and stuff like that.

Luke: I think they also have a core Disney app as well, because I believe my son watches videos on it. [laughs]

Jared: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I would think they do.

Luke: I think some of that detritus of all these different apps does come from this “treat the app as a micro-site” kind of approach.

But I see that decreasing now, because, as you said, people are looking at it and saying, “OK, well, these things are really low-value.” Once they drop off like an App Store list, they don’t really gain that much traction anymore.

This is why doing kind of gets you to learn. There is, for example, a whole suite of Disney individual, standalone books as apps.

Jared: Right. OK, yeah.

Luke: That’s all about selling a brand, right? So you’ve got the “Winnie the Pooh” book. You’ve got the Pixar “Cars” book. You’ve got interactive puzzle games associated with those brands.

Again, I don’t know exactly what’s going on in Disney, but my suspicion is they put out one of those, probably working with a third-party vendor. And if that format sticks, then they’ll throw other brands against that format.

So, put like a “Winnie the Pooh” jigsaw puzzle book. If that one works, then use that same stack to put another brand, like “Cars 2″ or “Toy Story,” on it.

Jared: Yeah, OK. So they are getting something out there. They’re seeing how well it works, they’re seeing what works well and what doesn’t, and then coming back and saying, “OK, let’s do another one and see what works there.”

It’s the standard iteration, “go as fast as you can” type process.

Luke: Yeah. And again, it’s that kind of environment. This is not a mature market right now. In a mature market, you don’t see the types of things that happened over the past three weeks.

You don’t see huge shifts in something like WebSearch, for example. The brands are pretty much established. We already had all that shakeout with Microsoft and AOL and Yahoo and who knows who.

Jared: Altavista and Ask and …

Luke: You’re familiar with this sort of trend of technology, right?

Jared: Yeah.

Luke: Where you have this period where there’s lots of very big moves, people are figuring out, and then over time things stabilize a bit more and there’s a little less change.

We’re not in that phase yet. [laughs] Things have definitely not stabilized yet. So iteration and constantly putting things out there and seeing what’s working is, I believe, the mode to be in.

Jared: When you’re doing that, when you’re coming to mobile first, you don’t want to treat it as if you’ve never seen it before. So if you’re in a team, let’s say you’re working at a hospital that has decided that they need to get something mobile out there.

So if you’re talking to the IT team at the hospital, what do you recommend they do for first steps, in terms of getting themselves familiar? Do they just go out and study what’s happening on the Web, or do they just start building something, or is there some cross between it? Where do they start?

Luke: I guess there’s a couple of ways to answer that. From a development perspective, I think it matters what they’re most comfortable with, development-wise.

The majority of companies that I interact with and see all have websites and Web presences. So starting to build something on the mobile Web is a very, very fast way for many organizations to prototype and put stuff out there, because they already know how to do HTML, CSS, JavaScript.

They can run it on a bunch of different devices, and they can simulate the form factor, simulate the interactions, and get a lot of things going. You can’t do everything, obviously, on the mobile Web that you can do in an app. So usually that’s a good place to start, technology-wise.

Then, in terms of overall adoption and use, if you don’t have a specific audience and a specific platform, which few people do but some do, you basically go by overall usage numbers.

And so, highest engagement still remains the iOS platform, and then you fall back to Android, and things drop off after there.

And with the transition with BlackBerry, maybe there’s something viable there, maybe Windows will stumble into something. But those don’t really look like very big plays right now.

So you can sort of prioritize what you do technology-wise, and then actually determining what to do with the product and the service you’re offering is exactly the process you’re talking about.

I don’t think it’s necessarily anything new. Know your audience. Observe real behaviors. All the design stuff that we’ve been talking about since I don’t know when applies here as well.

Jared: Do you think that there’s a real advantage to playing with as many different mobile applications as you can get your hands on and learning the lingua franca of the interaction designs?

Luke: What’s different about mobile, I guess, is an interesting question to talk about. And I think there’s three things that really make mobile very different.

The devices, and when we’re talking mobile here, I’m not blurring the line between these laptop, tablet, all kinds of things. I’m literally talking about things that are in your pocket pretty much all day. Very, very mobile.

So, today, those devices have a lot of constraints based on the ergonomics. They’ve got a small screen. In many situations, you’re using them in environments where there’s other stuff going on. You’re not hunkered down at a desk for an extended period of time.

You may be at home on the couch watching TV, or you may be in a line somewhere, or passing some time in, hopefully, not the car.

So there’s these constraints. Low bandwidth is another constraint. And when you use the devices, you familiarize yourself with what those constraints are.

But there’s also a lot of opportunities in terms of capabilities.

And if you use lots of apps, as you describe, then you can see, how are they using the accelerometer? What have they done with front and rear-facing cameras? How are they using location in order to deliver information? How are they using the video port, the camera, the audio input?

All those things can open up new ideas about how to take advantage of those capabilities in your service. So it’s these constraints. It’s these capabilities.

And then the third thing, which is sort of simple but I think it’s also the most powerful of this, is this is a device that you can use pretty much anywhere and everywhere. You have it with you all the time. Coverage of networks is way better than it’s been. It’s not perfect by any means.

And so, through the fact that you have it with you everywhere and anywhere and you can pull it out and access a network and access assets, all these new use cases emerge that you didn’t have before.

And that involves things like when inspiration strikes you can do something. You can do something in all sorts of different situations and contexts and environments and places, and increasingly between devices. This is a very interesting area.

I was talking to someone on the traditional-appliance manufacturing side of the coin. And we were talking about, “Well, why doesn’t the appliance interact with my smartphone?”

If you have either an RFID tag or a QR code, so if it’s got a maintenance issue, I can just point my smartphone camera at the QR code it generates on its screen and it tells me exactly the service that it needs.

Or better yet, fills out the whole form for me and I just hit a button and the technician comes and fixes it. But I can’t do that necessarily, without being able to have these devices with me anywhere and everywhere I am, and that’s a huge determining factor of new uses for them.

Jared: That’s really interesting, because what this really talks to is we can get very creative very quickly once we have a chance to just start to play with this.

It reminds me of the time when I heard the stories of Jeff Hawkins, who founded Palm, which, in essence, was one of the first mobile devices.

He just took a block of wood, and he carried it around in his pocket. And he would literally take the block of wood out and pretend to take notes on it or look something up and just figure out, did it make sense at that moment.

So it sounds to me like, if you got something simple up and running that you could carry in your pocket and then you could actually use it the way your users would use it and go through those scenarios, you would quickly learn where it works and where it doesn’t.

Luke: Yeah. And this takes us right back to where we started. That’s the kind of rapid iteration, “just do things” I’m talking about. That’s going to get you much closer to the mark of what your product should be doing and how than iterating in PowerPoint for hours, or days or weeks or months.

Again, I’m not dismissing the planning phase, but because these devices root you in real-world use, just to go back to the eBay example, some of the testing they did on that eBay iPhone app was they actually went to a Fry’s or a Circuit City or Best Buy with the device, went back to the back of the store and tried to use it for things like price comparison.

They were looking at these things. And they realized really, really fast that, hey, even though there’s great networks outside and within buildings, once you’re in these kinds of environments, they’ve really got to double down on performance because it wasn’t good enough to hit these core use cases where people were going to use them.

Jared: That’s really interesting. So the issue was that because the signal was so diminished inside the building, you had to minimize the amount of data that was being transferred radically to make it still a useful, functional item in that low-signal space.

Luke: There’s actually a lot of great stories from this eBay iPhone app. Karlyn Neel, who I worked with at eBay, gave a talk.

And actually, I wrote all this up, so everything I’m referencing here you can actually go and look up in this “One-Billion-Dollar iPhone App.” [laughs]

Jared: We’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

Luke: Great. That’s the really interesting thing. I mean, this one iPhone app did about two billion in sales last year.

Jared: Wow! OK.

Luke: So all that testing and that rapid iteration and just getting it out there, I think, really worked well for them.

Jared: That’s a lot better than all the fart apps that are out there.

Luke: [laughs] Yeah, I think so.

Jared: Two billion in sales. That’s crazy!

Luke: That is crazy. Single iPhone app.

Jared: Yeah. Yeah, wow. OK, so that makes sense. So now, what are some other things that you’ve been collecting that make good mobile design stand out that designers really want to look into?

Luke: Actually, this is a nice segue to what we’re talking about with the conference, because I’ve been really taking a hard look at what are the things that make mobile different.

How do these constraints, capabilities, and the ability to interact with these devices anywhere and everywhere, what do those do to what we know traditionally about input, about navigation, about organization, about even things like menu design, layout?

All this stuff, I think, gets impacted, and we need to take a step back and say, “OK, let’s rethink how we think about gathering input because of these constraints, capabilities, and modes of use.”

Let’s step back and think about, “Well, how do we think about navigation menus and IA in our organization because of these constraints, capabilities, and modes of use?”

I personally am very, very self-nervous that I want to apply too much of what I know already on the desktop Web to this new environment.

So I constantly keep slapping myself and pulling myself back and saying, “Hey, just because it works over here, is this really what you’re going to do on mobile?”

The thing that keeps resonating in the back of my head it feels like we’re in a similar transition to when we went from print to Web, and the first reaction of everybody was to take what works in print and put it on the Web.

Jared: Yeah. Yeah.

Luke: It’s a very, very similar situation now. Take what works on the desktop Web and put it on mobile; put it inside mobile apps and things like that. And again, there’s different capabilities and new things that you can do, so that doesn’t always make sense.

Jared: So what’s an example that you’ve seen recently of someone who just sort of blindly moved over and they probably shouldn’t have?

Luke: I don’t know if I can name a specific name, but I can tell you how to identify something like that.

Jared: OK, yeah.

Luke: If you go and hit a mobile-optimized experience, and at the top of the screen there’s about five navigation-bar headers, with menu options that take up, I don’t know, 50 percent of this tiny little screen and you can’t actually see any content, that’s generally an example of someone just porting over what they had on the desktop onto mobile.

Jared: Yeah, OK. The funny thing is that those five layers of navigation at the top of the screen probably didn’t work on the desktop either.

Luke: Yeah. [laughs] Exactly. And then you get breadcrumbs and all this other stuff, just really porting over everything that they had from the desktop over to mobile.

Another telltale sign is I have this one example that I reference a lot around a university’s mobile Web experience.

What they had on there was a letter from the president, a photo gallery of life on campus, alumni in the news. All the sort of irrelevant promotional stuff that litters desktop Web experiences and nothing that actually considered modes of use on the phone.

The most stereotypical, generic example you can think of is a campus map. You think if you’re going to take the time to build out a new UI or experience for your university for mobile devices, you’d give people a way to get around the university.

Jared: Yeah, you would think.

Luke: You’d think, but they didn’t have that.

Jared: Wow.

Luke: And things like that. Things which are task-based and allow you to get stuff done as you’re out and about in the real world. All that stuff is absent in situations where they just take what they have on the desktop and port it over.

You don’t see anything taking advantage of these capabilities and modes of behavior. It’s just the same content, smaller layout.

Jared: So, keeping this idea of just sort of saying, “OK, what is the key piece here? Let’s not focus on the chrome.”

This is one of the things, right? Because what happens to folks who work, particularly in larger organizations, is that because every group is responsible for their own content, they say, “Well, we’re not responsible for that.

“We’re just responsible for the stuff the content gets poured into. So we’re just going to focus on this shell, this chrome that we put around things, and that’s what we design. And we don’t really know.”

And so you get a lot of sort of lorem ipsum style designs where the thing that the user actually comes for, the thing that the user actually cares about, is actually not part of the design process.

And that gets them into trouble. That’s still true in mobile, and it probably gets really magnified in mobile, I would think.

Luke: Absolutely. I think you nailed it.

I have this rant about wireframes because when I look at the vast majority of wireframes, images which are content are represented as a box with an X through it.

Text and the actual copy or information, or even detailed data, is usually a line. It’s not even text. Or it’s filled with lorem ipsum.

So it’s all fake and the things that actually are, “real” are navigation menus.

And so what you get is you end up with these designs that have a whole bunch of navigation menus all over the place, because that’s what people are iterating on during the design phase.

To your point, they’re playing with the shell instead of playing with the actual content.

And I think mobile, and in particular, actually, at a broader level, touch-based interactions and these natural user-interface principles really magnify this issue because on those types of devices, you can directly interact with the content.

People start to expect that. Once all the stuff starts taking away from the content and you start putting buttons and navigation menus and everything all over the place, it starts to feel more and more foreign.

And especially when you have smaller screens, you get more and more frustrated that you can’t actually get to the content.

Jared: Yeah. I see myself doing this. So I’ve got this Canon camera, and it has the capability for me to see, on the little digital screen that comes on the back of the camera, nine pictures at once. So I can press a button and now I can see the last nine pictures I worked with.

And the way you’re supposed to interact with it is you use the little arrow keys on the back of the camera. If I want to get to the upper left-hand corner, I have to scroll back and then scroll up and then push the OK button and I get it. So it’s like eight keystrokes to get to a picture.

But I find myself unconsciously just trying to push the picture on the screen, move my finger over and push the picture, and I want to interact with that data directly. And of course, my camera predates the touch-screen movement of the iPhone.

But I think people are growing to have this expectation that they can just interact with this data that way, when it’s in that form factor.

Luke: Yeah. A more interesting piece of that, at least to me, is you and I have grown up and used all kinds of different input formats and devices.

Look at people who just started on touch. So my two and a half year old, he goes up to any screen and he expects it to be a touch-based screen.

Jared: I’ve heard that. That if you grow up in a household with a touch screen you think any glass surface is a touch screen.

Luke: Right. So those are your expectations. I love doing this quote, but anytime he sees sort of like a GUI menu, he comes and grabs me. He’s like, “What the hell is this? Fix this thing.” Because it feels really foreign in that environment.

Jared: That’s really interesting. Yeah, I think you really do have to be immersed in that language of the natural user interface as it’s sort of becoming called, this new thing. What’s your take on Apple reversing the scrollbars on Lion to match what’s happening on the touch devices?

Luke: I saw a great phrase recently which is, “Apple is going to take us kicking and screaming into this next generation of UI whether we like it or not.” Because they actually make pretty bold moves in these areas, and that’s a great example.

Jared: Well but Windows 8 looks is looking like it’s getting that way too. Right?

Luke: Yeah. I saw some really confusing stuff about Windows 8 recently.

Jared: Yeah. They backed away from that. So the original Windows 8 thing that they showed, what, about six months ago, was really this very touch-centric interface.

And then just like last week or something they said, “Well, actually you’ll be able to switch between that and the old way of doing things.” And it’s like, “Ooh.”

Luke: Which I don’t get. So I would like to see that. Because of you look at those two screenshots, it’s like Microsoft Office 2012, the one with the ribbon-type interactions for Explorer and then what looks like Windows Phone seven for the touch-based viewing and toggling between those two seems quite, I don’t know. I would love to see how that works.

Jared: It reminds me of the old saying, “Standards are great, there are so many to choose from.”

And it sounds like Microsoft is taking this middle road where they say, “Well, OK, you get to choose what which standards you have.” But that’s just going to create all sorts of wacky interaction and confusion.

Luke: To go back to the point around how Apple is taking the stuff from the iPhone and adopting it to Lion, I think people are starting to expect the way things work on their mobile devices to work that way on a desktop.

Chris Messina recently posted a thing where he said, “I think I just double tapped my space bar the laptop expecting it to insert a period and a space.”

Jared: I have done that.

Luke: Yeah, because you do that on the phone all the time. You go space, space and it inserts a period and spaces over. And now you go to the laptop and you do it and you’re like, “Wait. Why didn’t this do that?”

Jared: Right.

Luke: So it’s amazing the way we start to reprogram ourselves through continued use of these other devices. If you just plot out the trend line, more people are going to be interacting with their mobile phones more often than they do their laptops outside of very core professionals.

So yeah, the behaviors you get on the mobile device are probably going to become the dominant ones. And those are the ones that are going to influence what you expect in other places, hence the transition of scrollbars online.

Jared: I think so. So from an application developer perspective this really means that we can’t just limit ourselves to a single platform anymore.

We have to become versant in all the platforms that are out there and have a census to how people are switching between them.

And understand that there’s a good chance that our app is being used in more than one platform by the same person often simultaneously in some ways.

Luke: Yep. And so there’s two things that I like to talk about with that idea. One is, it’s becoming very, very clear that a cross-channel user, AKA someone that uses your desktop app, your mobile website, and your, I don’t know, your Chumby app or something like that.

[laughter]

Luke: Not only are they a better user because they use you in three different channels so they add up to more time, but in each of those channels they are higher use than somebody who’s only using a single channel.

So the stat I always pull up because it’s the biggest one, Facebook has 250 million mobile users. The people who that use Facebook on mobile are twice as active on Facebook on the desktop as those who do not use Facebook on the mobile.

Jared: That’s really interesting. Yeah, Netflix was reporting something very similar. And they worked really hard so that if you’re watching it on your TV and you pause it, and then you go and you bring up the same movie on your iPad, it picks up right where it left off on the TV.

Luke: Netflix is actually pretty fascinating. I remember at the Web App Summit you guys put on, Bill Scott made a couple comments around how there’s all this debate in Netflix about whether they should have the same experience across all their devices in terms of UI.

Or if they should be optimized for the capabilities and constraints. And they have this notion of user posture across all devices.

And what he quoted was that in all the testing they’ve done it always comes out that the device optimized UI performs better than something that’s generic across everything.

Jared: Right.

Luke: And I think that applies to how you represent the interface. But at the same time, there’s seamlessness between your data and your interactions and your state across all those different interfaces.

So it’s sort of like the same but different, is really the right answer. Because you want the interactions, the core value, your data, all that stuff to be the same. But the way you interact with it should be influenced by what the device can or can’t do.

Jared: That makes perfect sense. That makes perfect sense. So, people coming to your full-day workshop.

You’re going to walk through a lot of what you’ve been learning. Particularly with your recent explorations doing the whole Bagcheck experience, which was a gorgeous experience.

Which, it’s interesting how you were co-developing this desktop-based experience alongside doing a mobile experience. And you started with using mobile Web for it.

I remember early on you told me that eventually you would expect it to be a mobile app. But you were using the mobile Web so that you could get to the functionality and understand what the users needed faster and you could react to it faster instead of having to go through the App Store cycle, right?

Luke: Right. Exactly. It’s actually even more complex than that I guess. We started out by building a command line version first. AKA, we built the API.

So what we would do is really think about, “What are the different objects? How are people going to interact with those objects?” And we would build a core functionality which we could interact with through command line.

So the first things we actually did when we were testing … this is kind of silly. But the first interactivity and “usability” testing we did was in the command line. [laughs]

And from there we took that command line and we gave it a bit of a front-end in a mobile Web experience. And then subsequently we built a desktop experience after that.

But the mobile Web experience, one of the reasons why we did that first was because we had again, these tight constraints, but also because we could interact with it anywhere and everywhere.

So we would literally be out in the evenings. I used it when I went on vacation. Just trying to figure out what are the modes of behavior, very similar to the eBay example we talked about earlier.

What are the modes of behavior that makes sense with this service? And once we thought we had that tuned then we went over to the desktop and said, “OK, well, let’s take what we learned and develop a larger screen more in-depth kind of immersive experience for it.”

Jared: So by going that sort of command line which got you to the essential functionality and it said, “These are the transactions what we will have with the server.”

And then, in essence, it sound like you put a nice pretty skin on it and built it out from there for your mobile experience.

And then you went to the desktop and said, “OK, what does the desktop need to have that borrows from that mobile experience and what does it have to have that’s unique to the desktop?” Is that sort of the evolution?

Luke: Yeah, definitely. And with the desktop too. I mean, you just have different kinds of capabilities.

So you’ve got a lot of screen space. So we were able to do things which are more like asynchronous editing, which is very hard to do on mobile because you just have this small screen.

You can’t have multiple pieces of say, like a creation tool open simultaneously and allow you to switch between them. You tend to be locked into a mode or a state because that’s all the room you have.

So when we took it to the desktop all of sudden we were able to do things that were a lot more asynchronous, that were more multi-modal if you will.

And we were also able to do a bit more automation on stuff because we had nicer connections in the bandwidth pipes overall.

So for example, one of the things we did on desktop, which we didn’t do on mobile, was on a desktop we would go and build out a listing of all your stuff using metadata you have on other services.

We said, “OK. Well tell us who you are on Flickr,” and we’d go and find all the camera gear you use on Flickr and essentially build out this list for you in this full-screen interactive mode.

Whereas on the mobile, we built something that we didn’t have on desktop, which was you can go and scan the barcode of an item to input it, which is pretty awkward and clunky in most people’s laptop and desktop experiences.

So those two things were separate to the platform. Long term, maybe we could have morphed the two. Certain things just made more sense.

Like the barcode. You could pick up the phone; point it at an object really easily. So that makes a lot of sense on mobile. So that app had that functionality.

Jared: Well, I mean, it all sounds great. And I’m really looking forward to your workshop at the conference. And I’m very excited because you’re really going to get into the core details as to how people make this happen.

You’re going to talk specific about gestures and how Hover works, and doing input, and displaying data, and all that stuff.

So it’s going to give people a really solid background and starting place for the language of what works and what doesn’t.

Luke: Yeah. I wouldn’t come unless you want to get really into the details of how to do these things.

Jared: OK. So we’ll tell people to stay away unless they really need to do that.

It’s key that they don’t come unless they really want to know that stuff.

So that’s excellent. And people love your workshops, so that’s great.

Luke, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. This has been really fascinating and hearing these stories of how you guys did this and what’s going on in the mobile space has been really a lot of fun. Thank you.

Luke: Thank you. My pleasure.

Jared: So everybody, you can hear Luke at the User Interface 16 Conference, which is going to be November 7th through 9th in Boston, Massachusetts. He’s going to be doing a full-day workshop on designing for mobile.

And you now know why we chose him to be the guy to do this because he’s done this stuff. He knows what he’s talking about. So you definitely want to see that.

You can find out all about that at Uiconf.com. We’ll love to see you there.

Again, Luke, thank you very much for spending this time with us.

And I want to thank the audience for listening. And as always, thank you for encouraging our behavior here at User Interface Engineering. We’ll talk to you next time.

2 Responses to “Luke Wroblewski – Navigating the Mobile Landscape”

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