Friday, September 6, 2013

Examples of Mobile First Development

We all know that developing for mobile is different than developing for the desktop but how exactly is it different? I'm deeply interested in how a mobile product needs to be structured in a fundamentally different way than a desktop product in order to thrive. It cannot simply be a slimmed down, feature minimal version of a the desktop or tablet version. It should not feel as if its missing critical features or useful add-ons simply because they couldn't fit into the mobile format.

Various concepts have emerged for how to approach mobile app development. One revolves around mobile apps being remote controls for real life. Another is about mobile apps being useful for a user while they wait for something (i.e. in a line-up or in an elevator). In order for that to happen a user should be able to launch the app and perform some task within 30 seconds to a minute. MG Siegler of CrunchFund also had this to say about building for mobile:
"Don’t build an app based on your website. Build the app that acts as if websites never existed in the first place. Build the app for the person who has never used a desktop computer. Because they’re coming. Soon."
Some companies have built very compelling business models that fit well with this mobile first, quick and effective/remote control paradigm. Users are responding well by engaging with and being retained by these mobile apps due to their simplicity. The following examples show how mobile apps can reduce inherently complicated tasks down to very simple actions which are fundamentally different from anything we've seen previously on the desktop.

1. Hotel Tonight

Hotel Tonight is a mobile-only app where users can book last-minute hotel deals. Hotel Tonight has simplified booking a hotel room down to only a few essential actions without degrading the experience to the point where it feels limited. Here is the user flow from initial launch through to booking confirmation:

1. During launch the mobile app retrieves the hotels on offer given the user's current location. Although this may take a few extra seconds, it presents the user with the exact information they are interested in right when the app loads (the user is not required to type anything).

2. The user is then presented with the hotel selections in a scrollable list with the 3 most essential details displayed: photo, price & location. The app also provides some other useful data like the type of hotel experience (Solid, Basic, Luxe, Charming, Hip) and a rating by other Hotel Tonight guests. This information makes it very easy to select an appropriate hotel for the night.

3. Once a hotel has been initially selected, some further details can be reviewed such as additional photos, information about the hotel itself and its exact location on a map along with the final price.

4. The final screen allows the user to easily confirm the dates, price and credit card to be used for the transaction.

From start to finish this process only requires 3 simple actions: a single hotel selection, an initial booking of the room and finally a confirmation of the booking details. Hotel Tonight has given travellers the ability to easily choose and book a hotel room from their mobile phones. The whole process from start to finish feels uninhibited by the mobile form factor it actually thrives within it. Its because of this that the mobile app thrives and continues to delight users.

2. Car2go

Car2go is a vehicle sharing service paid for by the minute where vehicles can be picked-up and dropped off in different locations. The primary way to find and reserve a vehicle is via its mobile app. Given the nature of the service offered, it needs to take seconds (not minutes) to book a vehicle via the app. Here is the user flow from initial launch through to vehicle reservation:

1. The mobile app launches fairly quickly, determines the user's current location in order to position the map correctly and starts retrieving vehicle locations. Again this presents the user with the exact information that are looking for without any interaction after launching the app.

2. Vehicles begin populating on the map and the user can then zoom in and out to find the vehicle closet to them or simply select a vehicle.

3. Once a vehicle has been selected, the blue vehicle marker expands to show 3 additional bits of information: license number, distance away and gas available (indicated as a percentage). Although this information may be helpful in some circumstances it can be presented in a different and this third step can potentially be removed completely:
  • The license number is unimportant to the vast majority of users unless a user has forgotten something in a vehicle and is trying to find it (but this is a very rare case).
  • Knowing the distance to a vehicle isn't as helpful as knowing the approximate time it would take to walk. A vehicle may be 562m away but how long would that take if the user walked there? A separate interaction with the marker (such as a "2-second hold") could display the walking time from the user's current location therefore removing the need for the distance measurement in the expanded marker.
  • The gas available is the most helpful but it could be more easily displayed so that it can be compared with all other vehicles. By displaying something visually on each vehicle's non-expanded marker (possible a textual percentage of even a level indication), this again would avoid the need to click on the marker to find out how much gas is available.

4. The final screen allows the user to review the vehicle's gas available, cleanliness, street address before confirming the reservation.

Again from start to finish this process only requires 3 simple actions: a single vehicle selection, reviewing some of the vehicle's specific information and finally a confirmation of the reservation details. As outlined above this 3-step process can be further simplified to just 2 steps by removing the expandable marker step and simple going straight to the reservation confirmation screen. Having said this, even with 3 steps this mobile app by Car2go is very efficient to use - a vehicle can be reserved in under 30 seconds.

3. Uber

Uber seamlessly connects a user needing transportation with a taxi driver. Uber, the company, does not own any vehicles and does not have any drivers on staff, instead they provide ride-logistics to both users and drivers in order to match supply and demand more effectively. Ultimately Uber wants to get users a taxi in the shortest amount of time and give them the best experience while helping drivers anticipate demand and therefore maximize the earnings per shift. Here is the user flow from initial launch through to taxi request:

1. During launch the mobile app determines the user's location in order to display the correct map along with taxis on the following screen. 

2. Taxis begin populating on the map but they also update in real-time as taxis move about through the streets or get requested by other users and are no longer available. This gives the user immediate feedback about each taxi's relative speed and direction along with the approximate supply of taxis in the given area. All a user has to do is position their pickup location, review the approximate wait time and then tap the "SET PICKUP LOCATION" button.

3. The final screen allows the user to review the pickup location, credit card to use and approximate wait time before confirming the request.

From start to finish this process only requires 2 simple actions: choosing a pickup location and confirming the taxi pickup request. Uber has made the process of booking a taxi on their mobile app as simple as possible and it works phenomenally well for users.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Building Product Roadmaps with Kanban

The following back-of-the-napkin drawing is a great illustration for how to think about aligning an entire organization around building the best product(s). Kanban fits well with this illustration as it can be used continuously to build an evolving product roadmap with the aid of everyone across the company in a repeatable and consistent way.

Here are the major steps:
  1. Source: New product ideas should be sourced from anyone inside the company. Anyone from any department should be able to provide small or large ideas that could eventually make their way into the product.
  2. Filter: Have a single person (usually the product manager) filter out and prioritize what ideas should be worked on. Filtering should be performed methodically based on both quantitative and qualitative measures so that the same selection criteria can be user over and over again.
  3. Recycle: Compost all the ideas that weren't selected and provide specific reasons for why they weren't selected. This openness and transparency helps the originator of the idea(s) understand the how to improve future ones so that they are more likely to be selected.
  4. Display: Display what product ideas will be worked on and in what order. This is where a Kanban board can come in very handy. Everyone in the organization should have access to this board where they can see the progress of previously selected product ideas, who is working on them and potentially add additional requirements as they come up.
The key is to make all of these steps publicly visible within the company and give everyone the ability to comment, argue and build on existing ideas. Kanban is about transparency, it gives everyone in an organization the knowledge about what ideas are being proposed, which ones are being selected and dropped, the reason why that happened and, finally, what should be worked on in the near future. This very simple yet transparent process helps to align an entire organization towards a common goal via a repeatable and consistent process.