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'User First' not 'Mobile First' Key to App Dev

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Posted October 9, 2015 By Ann All     Feedback

User experience is top of mind for mobile app developers, finds Progress Software research.

Mobile application development has been among the most in-demand IT skills for years now, and 2015 is no different. Several IT employment experts mentioned mobile app developer as a sought-after position when Enterprise Apps Today interviewed them earlier this year.

Yet according to the State of Mobility 2015 Global Developer Study by Progress Software, 57 percent of developers are new to mobile development and 47 percent of developers build, on average, just one functional mobile app a year. (Free registration is required to download the study.)

Mobile apps are just part of a larger enterprise application backlog, said Mark Troester, vice president of product marketing for app dev and deployment for Progress Software, noting that many companies are struggling with application modernization initiatives.

The backlog is likely to become even more intense, with demand growing for Internet of Things (IoT) applications and apps for wearables like smartwatches. When asked about future development plans, the 3,000 IT professionals surveyed by Progress, nearly half of whom are developers, mentioned developing for Web (cited by 87 percent of respondents), desktop (62 percent), IoT (22 percent) and wearables (6 percent). Forty-five percent report they are already working on IoT apps.

Mobile App UX

A hybrid approach, in which apps are built using Web technologies like HTML5 and then wrapped inside a container that offers access to native device features, is the most popular mobile app development method, mentioned by 33 percent of respondents. Twenty-five percent cited native app development on mobile platforms like Android and iOS, and 19 percent use Web development languages.

Troester said developers sometimes focus too much on the "native vs. Web" development debate.

"It's more important to consider the use case for an app and the entire user experience and design from that point of view," he said, noting that an app may incorporate chat functionality, for example. "Developers should think not just 'mobile first' but 'user first' when designing an app."

Thinking about use case and user experience in a mobile app project's earliest stages also can help companies better utilize their development skills, he added.

"If you can categorize apps in terms of the experience you want to provide, you may determine that a relatively small group of apps need to be truly native. You can assign those to developers with the right skills or even outsource them," he said.

Developers do understand the importance of user experience. Forty-four percent of developers said positive user experience was the most important feature for an app, according to the survey, well ahead of ease of development and maintenance (24 percent) and performance (15 percent).

"If apps are not designed well and users do not adopt them, all of the expertise and effort is wasted," Troester said. "You have to think about design upfront. One of our big focuses is making sure developers do not need to be design experts to build a compelling UI."

Troester said Progress believes the bulk of mobile applications can be supported by newer technologies like NativeScript, an open source framework that he said offers more flexibility than Apache Cordova, the framework typically used for hybrid development.

"That allows developers to build native apps without writing native code. They can apply existing Web resources they know well, like HTML5 and JavaScript, to mobile projects," he said. "You get the benefits of leveraging a single language, but you can actually integrate or work with the native capabilities of the device. It is the best of both worlds."

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.

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