Last night I went to an IXDA SF event at Trulia to hear Chia Hwu (@chiah) and Evan Kirchhoff (@theevank) of Qubop do some sharing on what they're up to in the mobile native app development world. They spent a nice amount of time giving an overview and also some idea of where development is currently on 3 platforms - iOS, Android and Windows Phone. I thought it was a really great conversation starter for those of us who are in and out of the native mobile space all day - a remarkably lonely space given the massive market, particularly if you're not focused on web-based responsive design. I also find we rarely get to see other people's process and thinking in native mobile design - so this was a real treat for me.
Smartphones and tablet usage growing by leaps - both in users and in app sales.
iOS hardware usage
- iPhone 54%
- iPod Touch 23%
- iPad: 23%
Android hardware usage
- Phone - 96%
- Tablet - ~4%
It's also interesting to note where each company's revenue comes from to understand the strategy behind each. Apple is going after more app installations and enormous sales of hardware. Google is looking for more hardware to leverage ads and search earnings.
And it's even more interesting to see how the entire market has shifted since 2007. Nokia was the dominant force in the market while Apple and Samsung control 99% of the market currently.
So, why did they include Windows Phone in their exploration? They know that it's a very small market share but they hold out hope with the convergence of a great development environment, a hardware partner in Nokia, Verizon starting to push Windows phones and the new Windows 8 UI unified across all platforms, that the market share will come. Also, as a replacement for Blackberry app development as the 3rd platform.
They also pointed out an interesting new development about how Android OS is starting to split out (i.e. Kindle Android holds 54% of the market share for Android currently) that is shifts the market over the next few years.
- Designing for the most recent OS version. iOS 5 has over an 80% adoption rate across all devices.
- Nice because you only have 2 screen factors to design for across iPhone, iPod touch and iPad
- The iPhone dominates the iOS landscape in terms of units sold although the iPad dominates the overall tablet market and also is growing its marketshare rapidly
- Even with screen resolutions (Retina displays) you're at a 2x+ resolution. Easy scaling options if planned for in design.
- Cannot change home screen display other than to show a badge indication of "new" data
- Standard UI is called out and then customized conventions are created and adopted as "standard" (i.e. pull to refresh, 5 button bar with primary action in the middle)
- Over time redesigns show the shift in priorities for the company as well as adoption of newer conventions (i.e. Foursquare - upper-right check-in, middle action item check-in and now return to upper-right)
- Sliding navigation has become a new navigation concept that some apps are using to replace the tab bar analogy to allow it to remain hidden until needed (i.e. Facebook)
- There's also a drive to reveal and use multitasking gestures (i.e. 4/5 fingers, movement in front of the device)
- Challenging because of the sheer number of devices, the different form factors, hardware specs, and now non-Google Android OS implementations
- Hardware questions: Does it have an accelerometer? How accurate? Processor speed? Does it have hardware buttons, touchscreen only or a combo of both?
- No agreement on number, order and functionality of hardware buttons
- Newer versions of Android attempt to change this to software functionality, however the largest user base is for the Kindle Android OS (54%) which does not conform to the Google Android direction
- Some features such as the Android "back" button confuse users because of their engineering-centric implementation. This button takes you back through every app and action across the entire device. An engineer sees that as simply navigating the "view stack." Users however are used to a app-centric navigation scheme leading designers in many apps to create iOS style back buttons to traverse through your interior app structures.
- Cannot design for most recent UI - version 2.3 has the largest installed user base across both phone and tablets. The most recent OS (4.0) has only 7% install base and it's deprecated as of next week
- Companies pay a certain cost to gain customers, so when designing there needs to be some consideration for brand and interaction identity from platform to platform. Creating a completely different experience that requires them to relearn how to use your product doesn't make sense.1) Square is a good example of an app for which it's business critical to make sure there is NO learning curve involved. They created pixel accurate across many configurations and wrote special code to make sure page tear the same across all Android devices. 2) Foursquare splits the difference so it retains brand visual but uses platform specific conventions.
- To address some of the issues of such wide diffraction there are new compatibility libraries called "fragments" - which are more adaptive across the different screensizes, particularly in their use on tablets where the do clumping and column behaviors rather than simple widening. The most recent OS is not viable to build for if trying to hit a wide audience and Kindle Android may or may not ultimately include compatibility - and with 54% of the market this is an important issue.
Windows Mobile Design
- An interesting combination of both iOS and Android platforms. Microsoft dictates the screen size, graphics requirements, GPS and many other hardware specific items so the developer can count on these being consistent. Manufacturers cannot make UI changes. It's a closed ecosystem as the Microsoft store is the only place to buy. They take 30% of the purchase.
- Expression Blend is one of the most appealing aspects of this platform. A powerful way for designers (pixel-perfect design) and coders to work together, it's addressing some of the issues that neither Apple or Google dev environments have. Windows 8 will have new tools, but they haven't revealed them yet.
- UI design embraces radical simplicity and a text heavy interface. All surfaces are flat, there is no visual callout of a "button" or touchable area on the screen. This is where the question lies in it surviving as a consumer UI: will word based navigation work - buttons, links, titles all in the same visual space?
- Live tiles are the access point to all apps. You can choose which are displayed. Their main concern with this is that companies might take this as license to push ad content rather than live updates. There is not currently a way to control what data is delivered - wide open.
- Challenging to change fonts in certain areas so it's easy to fall into "house style." Rapid developer tools are fast but challenging to impose brand.
- Panorama Control - 24x pixel peek at the deeper data. Solves which feature on top.
- Magazine Cover UI - a lot of type, background graphics
- Pivot Control - no peek, content fills the screen (80+ more pixels), segmented control (like iOS)
- Application Bar - Not for navigation (swiping and touching) This is to show the context.
- Sideways motion - has a nice don't leave the screen feel rather than having to navigate levels.
- Porting to Window Mobile is fairly easy using these design patterns, but it's challenging to impose custom UI
Multi-screen Mobile Design Strategy
Chia and Evan spent some time walking us through one potential strategy for designing for the most impact and best use of time and money given the current market factors. The did hasn't to point out that a lot of this depends on your particular audience and that it is possible to target "new only" Android and skip Windows. I thought it was a good conversation given the content of this fun talk.