Once upon a time totals like one billion referred only to the population of Beijing or the number of McDonald's hamburgers served. But now it's also the estimated number of Internet-connected smartphones, which means there's plenty of opportunity for smart software developers to make money providing mobile applications. And not just Angry Birds. Enterprises have long been enthusiastic about mobilizing their software for the kinds of devices their employees carry everywhere.
Obviously this is a huge opportunity for nearshore developers. There is yet, and probably will not be, a Microsoft or IBM of apps for mobile devices. The space is wide open, development costs are relatively low, and anyone with a clever idea is bound for glory... as long as they accomplish one thing.
That thing is figuring out how to create a great user experience on a little mobile device, where screen real estate is as constrictive as a Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving. User interface experts like Jakob Nielsen (aka the king of usability) have pronounced the mobile user interface as "miserable." The software designer who can transform a client's idea or legacy application into a productive and happy experience will have customers beating a path to their door.
In the past year, I've had the opportunity to talk to a bunch of developers and user advocates about what they think it takes to design a good screen experience for people who use mobile devices. Their suggestions should be heeded by providers but also by clients, because when the two sides sit down to talk product development, it would help if they were on the same page in terms of visual values, and both should be thinking in terms of what's best for users.
Although it might seem obvious that the user should be the supreme focus of usability, it's remarkable how often that part of the equation is overlooked when deadlines are looming, the clock is ticking, the client is calling, and you've got to get the software done!
But by keeping some basic guidelines in mind, a sourcing team has a chance to deliver the ultimate mobile experience:
1. Make sure the user can engage almost instantly in the task at hand.
2. Keep text to a minimum, and readable at a glance.
3. Think in terms of immersive "spaces," not pages and menus.
4. Remember that the user might also be doing something else at the same time.
5. Test, test, test. Employ software-testing experts and focus groups. Dr. Nielsen recommends three types: competitive, parallel, and iterative.
6. Use beautiful graphics to "delight" users, as Apple suggests in its iOS guidelines.
Those are just starting points. There are other mobile areas where nearshore providers can also take the lead, like application security. Hugely important. But that's a topic for another time.
As noted interface designer Rachel Hinman has said, “Recent innovations are causing an inflection point in the mobile UX landscape, providing the opportunity to invent new and more human ways for people to interact with information."