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The future of mobile app development lies in simplicity

With the move of computing power away from the desktop to cellphones and other mobile devices, computing is becoming increasingly intimate and integrated into daily life.

In his latest book, “Mobile Mania”, Simon Silvester (EVP Head of Planning at Young and Rubicam and Executive Planning Director, Wunderman Europe Middle East and Africa), argues that computings’ new intimacy, driving as it does aspects of our social, shopping, travel and personal communication, offers amazing opportunities for mobile app developers and entrepreneurs.

Memeburn.com caught up with Simon Silvester to find out where he believes the future of mobile app development rests.

Memeburn: You are calling on mobile app developers to aim for simple, less complex software, and to move away from the complexity we see in most computing software. Why do you believe this to be necessary, do you have examples of developers who are doing this successfully and do you have any tips on how developers can go about stripping out complexity in favour of simplicity?

Simon Silvester: Developers are already operating a ‘simplicity first’ rule when developing apps for mobile use. You’ll notice that mobile apps have far fewer commands than their desktop equivalents. Commands like ‘exit’ and ‘back’ have gone. The reality is that most desktop software has become bloatware over the past decade as developers add more and more peripheral functionality on to their creations in the hope that users will want to upgrade from version 9.0 to version 10.0.

I’m arguing though that software needs to get even simpler than that, if it’s going to have 24/7 mobile use.

You don’t want to have to think too hard when you glance at your phone in bed first thing in the morning, or after a few beers in a nightclub. Yet that’s when you are most likely to need to use many mobile apps.

MB: You make a good point that mobile is less about ‘out of home’ and more about ‘at home’ since this is often where people make their calls from and interact with their cellphones. Why do so many developers still focus on ‘out of home’ then?

SS: Developers come from a desktop mindset where mobile is there for the occasions when people are not at their desk. They are now coming to the realisation that the only reason people were at a desk in the first place was to access their desktop. And if they don’t need to do that, they won’t go to a desk much at all, even when they are at home.

MB: Bad economic times give good ideas a clear path – what good ideas have you seen during this latest recession that you believe has a clear path ahead of it?

SS: GPS in phones is getting more accurate, and most phones will have GPS within a few years. The ability of consumers to check into, rate and share opinions about retail outlets and to leave that feedback easily accessible to other people in the area is already having a big impact on the marketing of bars and restaurants, and will become decisive as the technology spreads. In the 2010s, marketing is going local.

MB: For designers developing information apps – what information really matters to people right now?

SS: The great apps solve problems that people have everyday. The problem is that all the obvious low hanging fruit has gone, and the developers now need to spot everyday problems that people don’t yet realise they have and solve them. People didn’t know they needed social networking in 2004. Now they can’t live without it. Dandruff wasn’t much of a problem until consumer goods companies worked out a solution. It’s about spotting latent needs, and presenting their solution.

MB: What costs will future mobile apps be cutting for consumers?

SS: All of them. Cost cutting is going to be huge all over the developed world in the 2010s, as governments try not to default, banks continue to stabilise, and indebted consumers come to realize the value of a dollar or euro.

MB: Most developers formulate a mission for their product or organisation – what do they need to keep in mind when formulating this?

SS: Keep it audacious and be determined. And keep the operation, tasks and structure simple. It’s very easy to get lost in the woods when developing software.

MB: You caution against app developers committing to 3G or much higher bandwidth speeds. What can they commit to with relative security?

SS: Wi-Fi will get more widespread and faster, and may increasingly be a standard service in all bars, restaurants, offices and neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, cellular data will see demand exceed supply. Apple was right to launch FaceTime as Wi-Fi only. We’ll rely on Wi-Fi networks more and more in rich cities as the 3G cellular data networks all overload.

MB: You believe smart phones will offer another opportunity to new challenger banks. What would their mission statement need to look like for them to have a chance at success?

SS: It’s not so much mission statement as good, simple execution. Most new digital services from financial institutions are clunky because they have to work with the banks’ central computer systems, running legacy software from the 1980s. The banks that want to win may well need to redesign their computing system from the ground up. Computing power has risen a million fold since 1990. Yet ATMs in most countries have become no more sophisticated than they were then.

  • Find Silvester online at www.silvester.com or follow him on Twitter at @SimonSilvester. Read Mobile Mania online at http://pubs.yr.com/mobilemania.
  • Follow Herman Manson on Twitter @marklives.

    Author | Herman Manson (@marklives)

    Herman Manson (@marklives)
    The inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011, Herman Manson (@marklives) is a freelance business journalist and media commentator who blogs at www.marklives.com and his writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines locally and abroad. He also co-founded Brand magazine and is a columnist for BizCommunity.com. More


    1. josephclawrence

      July 5, 2010 at 9:52 am

      I would be interested to know if you are saying that actual applications should be simpler, or that the user interfaces should be simpler. I think it is an important distinction – creating simpler software/applications might be quicker and easier, but it is always going to lack the power that is the real purpose of software – to organise and make sense of information and data more efficiently than we can do on our own. On the other hand, the simplification of User interfaces can often be a very complicated and challenging task, but one that can create huge value for both users and application developers. The best applications often perform powerful and complex functions, but synthesise all the functionality into clean, crisp user interfaces, giving users only what they really need (think Chrome vs. IE for example).

    2. Simon Silvester

      July 6, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      The entire Mobile Mania book is written from a consumer/marketing perspective, and therefore when I argue that apps need to be simpler, I mean from the user's point of view. This may mean more coding for the developer; but it may also mean less. Most users don't use 90% of the functions in most software, particularly all the functions added on in order to persuade buyers to upgrade from version 1.0 to 2.0 and version 2.0 to version 3.0. In mobile apps, all these additions only act to confuse and complicate the user interface. I agree that making an already simple app simpler and more powerful at the same time is the ultimate goal, and that this can be conceptually difficult. But the first stage is to acknowledge that simplicity has not been top of the list for many software developers in the past.

    3. Celular Jogos

      August 3, 2010 at 1:57 am

      Vlw gostei do post e do blog sempre que possivel estarei visitando e ja vou adicionar aos nos meus favoritos.

    4. Tom L

      September 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      I have written an app as a demo / proof of concept of what I believe is the next paradigm for mobile cross-platform cloud-based apps: http://www.switchnode.com. I believe this app is about as simple as it gets, and is all the more functional for it.

    5. Tom L

      September 14, 2010 at 4:08 pm

      I have written an app as a demo / proof of concept of what I believe is the next paradigm for mobile cross-platform cloud-based apps: http://www.switchnode.com. I believe this app is about as simple as it gets, and is all the more functional for it.

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