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Balancing Bite-sized Mobile Apps

2009 July 20

There’s a balancing act going on in mobile development around how much should be in a single mobile application.

Whether an app is built as a native app, browser-based or even using SMS, a fundamental decision has to be made about what goes into a single app. So far there doesn’t appear to be consensus as to where exactly to draw the line.

There’s a natural tendency for organizations to want to put all of their capabilities into a single application. We do that on our websites and in our physical locations. For example, an airline website lets you get to all aspects of the airline from booking a ticket, to managing rewards, to investing in the company. Likewise, if you walk into a bank branch you can get all kinds of information about the parent financial services company from money markets, to business banking, investments and sometimes even insurance.

However mobile applications are bite-sized by nature. We use mobile while walking down the street, waiting for the plane to take off, and while bouncing around in a car (hopefully while riding, not driving). I haven’t heard many people wish for Microsoft Word-sized applications that contain all the features engineers have dreamed up over a few decades.  Even though devices are approaching the technical ability to manage such large applications, can we find ways to make large, disparate useful in the mobile context?

For now, I think organizations need to carefully explore their plans for mobile apps and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. As with anything, answers for one organization may not be right for another.

This decision is shaping up to be more complex than either 2oth century packaged software issues or 21st century web application decisions. Mobile blurs the lines and requires a forward-looking product strategy in a rapidly changing market and requires low-impact ways to provide new offerings without inconveniencing or confusing users.

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