Monday, March 12, 2012

Software design on mobile vs desktop. What drives app choice on each platform?

I'm going to change things up a bit and talk about software rather than social media.

In the past week or so, the idea of the post-PC world of devices has come back to the fore as a discussion point. No surprise since the new iPad and the latest beta of Windows 8 and the Metro UI were announced. I wanted to share some thoughts on how software is impacted due to this movement away from PCs and towards touch & mobile devices. Specifically, I've got some thoughts on how the quality & design of a mobile app can actually encourage me to change my app of choice on my laptop.

In the post-PC world I live in, I may have strong habits based on how I've done things on my laptop. However I'm finding that a well-designed mobile app will very quickly change my mind about how well my laptop apps are serving my needs and, more fundamentally, if those laptop apps even meet the needs they're designed for.

I've been trying out different ways of keeping my thoughts and to-do's organized. I normally keep things very simple by just using text files for notes and Google tasks for to-do's. Both can be accessed from my laptop as well as my iPhone and iPad. My method is barebones, but it keeps me on-track. However, I wanted to see if I was missing out by not using applications designed specifically for staying organized.

So I pulled up Evernote and Wunderlist. Evernote is well-known for providing a robust way to take notes and organize them. The desktop UI has no frills, but it's pretty easy to use. Wunderlist is the relative new kid on the block. It's focused on tasks and encourages short, to-the-point "notes". The desktop UI is pretty, but stil straight-forward.

The desktop versions of these apps have their differences, but if you're looking for a way to organize everything, then Evernote wins. If you're looking to just track tasks, then Wunderlist is more focused for that, but I think a simple text file or Google Tasks may actually be better. The design doesn't really matter, the amount of functionality is what matters. Yes, that functionality needs to be put together well, but the look of the app and the general chrome don't really add to how useful the app is.

For the desktop, I prefer Evernote even though it's overkill for my needs.

However, the mobile versions of these apps tell me a different story. Both apps are essentially ported over to iOS for full functionality that you find in the desktop versions with nods to touch & tap. But in creating a mobile version, the focus on accessing the functionality and the method of interaction really comes to the forefront. Evernote still allows you include notes, photos, etc but if you want to include any formatting or tagging, you have to go through the additional menu and close out the keyboard. It's very robust, but I feel it's actually a little difficult to use for doing anything more than finding & creating/editing simple notes. Wunderlist's chrome and more limited abilities change how I use the app. More specifically, I enter in quick notes or reminders and I'm in-and-out. Even though I can't use it to write full meeting notes, the structure of the UI makes me focus on smaller things and I don't miss the ability to add photos, tag, etc.

So on the mobile platform, Evernote still allows me to track everything under the sun, but that actually becomes a detriment. The main thing Evernote does is track or organize detailed notes for everything in my life. However, if I want to use the full organizational methods it offers, I've got to do a lot of tapping and it can actually be a little frustrating. Wunderlist does a lot less, but it presents that functionality to the user right up front with very little tapping required to do it's "thing": track, edit, and re-order tasks. It's really efficient for the set of functionality it offers.

For the iPhone, I far prefer Wunderlist. It's quick and to-the-point.

And that made me re-think my choice on the laptop.

On the laptop, Evernote is clearly better for note-taking or organizing thoughts, but not so much better for me that it stands out over simply keeping notes as email drafts. On the iPhone, Wunderlist is by far the best way I've found to keep track of tasks. So after comparing both of these apps on the laptop and on the iPhone, I believe I'll continue to use Wunderlist on the phone and laptop. For more detailed notes & thoughts, I'm still going to give Evernote another week, but I'm pretty sure I'll revert back to simple text files or email drafts.

What would change my mind about using Evernote on my laptop? It wouldn't be changes to the desktop app, but changes to the mobile app that would bring me around. Given how fast we're progressing to using phones and tablets as key devices we use all the time, I believe this will happen more and more. Desktop apps can do a lot to differentiate themselves, but the meaningful differences will be more apparent on the mobile/tablet versions and will drive software choices not just on phones & tablets, but on laptops too.

A year ago, I'd immediately say that desktop software choices don't have much to do with mobile software choices. As long as the data syncs, it doesn't matter. However, I'm seeing a greater and greater connection. Sure, I can use different apps for different devices, but design choices on mobile are affecting how useful any app can be to me and I see those choices as driving my decisions on my desktop software too.

Evernote and Wunderlist are just two examples, but I expect to see this happen more and more.

1 comment:

robertred said...

what is a mobile app? a lot of people ask, the best way that I find to explain it is find which app they use the most and go from there.