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What should an iPhone app do?


Siddharth Sethi

July 21, 2009

A very frequently asked and relevant question.

iPhone apps are characterized by being short and mostly simple. The apps, by design, do one task in a small amount of time. And they should do this well.

This is opposed to more traditional web or desktop applications. These applications have matured over the years and now handle extremely complex business situations performing multiple things. Take your email – Outlook (desktop app) or Google (web app) as an example. Both these apps are not only email applications, they handle other tasks – calendars, document access and contact management to name a few.

Indeed, the hardware on which mobile apps are meant to run are very animals from the more traditional computing devices. Basic differences lie in processing power, network speed , memory, mobility, battery life, screen size, physical keyboard and mouse and their size, how you hold/place the device when you are working with it, geo location features and so on.

These factors mean that the apps that run on the iPhone need to be very different than apps that run on desktops.

Here are some of the parameters that we keep in mind while designing iPhone apps for our clients.

  • Feature wise, they should have a very limited set of things they must do – these apps cannot be a cure all
  • What they do, they should do right, in one go – there is limited scope of review and correction
  • What they do, they should do in record time. If they take too long, there is a chance of losing data, if let’s say a phone call comes in while the app is in use
  • They should be more helpful than your average application – they should remember frequently used data and provide prompts that allow tapping/clicking than entering keyboard data
  • They should keep in mind that the user would most probably using the thumb and maybe the forefinger, and not all fingers in one go
  • Real estate is limited – so they should use space very wisely
  • Network access might be limited at times. So they should store data locally if possible and then sync up. If that is not possible, the user should know beforehand and appropriate checks should be in place to store data periodically
  • The new multitouch interface allows for a brand-new user experience – surprise the user to drive usability
  • The hardware features like compass, GPS, accelerometer etc offer possibilities that have not existed in laptops/desktops

So this is what the lay of the land is when considering what to build for the iPhone. It certainly cannot be everything to everyone, but it surely opens up immense possibilities for great innovation.

Let us know what your needs/thoughts/ideas are, and we will help you convert them into reality!

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