Recently I’ve been thinking about a trend in mobile apps, which seem to be moving away from the “user interface (UI) first” approach that has dominated websites and mobile apps to date. Rather, it seems that advancing technologies are making the UI subordinate to an overall user experience (UX) which includes not only the graphical interface but also the back end connectivity, performance and reliability. Further, between improving voice input, haptic feedback and small, wearable devices, the screen is becoming a less significant part of how we interact with mobile apps.
I believe there is a very interesting intersection between how we will use mobile apps and how we will develop them in the future: apps will become more about actionable notifications than destinations; and we will develop them using pre-written components as much as possible rather than custom coding.
What is the componentisation of mobile?
Componentisation is the use of common, proven design patterns to build mobile apps without needing to reinvent the wheel. For example, a shipping app may need a signature as proof of delivery, connectivity to a maps service, access to native GPS capability, basic screens and the ability to work in a disconnected or offline mode. Rather than coding each of these common elements, why not use a component available out of the box which is pre-written, proven, maintained and self-updating?
Using pre-built components as part of an application development platform reduces both the risk of apps not working and the learning curve at the start of your mobile projects. As most companies these days find they need to create multiple mobile apps, but want to keep a consistent experience across them, it makes sense to be able to take a standard screen, list multiple variants of the screen, and apply changes consistently across all of them.
The goal is to provide a consistent user experience across all your mobile apps, regardless of what device channel (wearable, smartphone, tablet, PC and so on) or ecosystem it sits within, while maintaining a native feel on each device. This is becoming very interesting with the shift towards actionable notifications replacing opening a full app, with user interface (UI) becoming less relevant.
Are notifications the new UI?
I recently wrote about the concept that in the future apps will use sensors, voice control and web services to anticipate your needs and provide a light-touch, context-aware interaction as needed. My argument was that in this world, there would be far less emphasis on user interface (UI) than there is today; rather, the user experience (UX) would be the focus. Shortly after, I read this piece which takes a similar view: that rather than building apps as destinations, the app is becoming a publishing tool with actionable content.
This piece views cards – notifications from an app which provide the content and response workflow in the card – as the solution because the card allows easy interaction with the notification without having to load an app. Both iOS and Android are already going in this direction, but I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that this is yet another Microsoft innovation that needed someone else to make it work: this is almost exactly the concept behind the Live Tiles in Windows and Windows Phone 8.
I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of connecting notifications as a series of objects. If you consider Facebook for example, it’s an aggregated set of content, with each piece of content being an object, so your notifications are linked to the object. As everything around the notifications, such as the ability to launch response processes (such as liking, sharing or commenting) is linked to the object, this also means that the object is what’s important.
Componentised apps and the “brave new world”
The trend toward mobile apps which are focused around notifications with a minimal UI can be easily accommodated with a mobile app development platform and framework. As the priority becomes providing the user with predictable, reliable functionality and a consistent experience, it makes sense to use pre-written components which are proven, maintained and kept up to date.
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