Mobile is a verb

I recently posed a simple question to a twenty something and her answers revealed some interesting trends in the mobile economy. I gave her a hypothetical situation where while shopping at the mall, she would be asking for advice from her friends on a purchase. The question was simple: how would you request and receive that advice? Would she use SMS, iMessage, Facebook or a specialized application made for that purpose?

Her answer was immediate, she would use Snapchat. When I asked why, her answer was because it’s the easiest way to send and receive messages with pictures. As we talked and I dug a little deeper about what made an application “easy”, some key elements to a successful mobile experience emerged.

Convenience was a huge driver for her. Snapchat was easy because it was the quickest way for her to send this message. It took the least number of actions to get the task accomplished: snap, message, address. As we talked however it became clear that it was more than just a matter of having an app engineered with better time and motion characteristics. It had more to do with maintaining her flow.

She sent and received snaps all day long. It was just part of the way she maintained a constant level interaction with her friends. So easy to her was really what kept her in her constant communication stream, allowing her to flow from one quick interaction to the next in the most non-intrusive manner.

This maintenance of flow is now the fundamental characteristic of the mobile experience and a clear break from the more web centric model of interaction we’ve had in the past. Google search is the classic web experience. A solitary seeker poses a question and a series of links appear. The seeker is in control and moves from link to link at their own pace gathering information. It’s isolated and synchronous. There really is no flow as it’s a completely serial operation. It all about the nouns, the topics we are looking for.

While the mobile app experience started with this same information gathering model, the weather app a prime example, the current experience is fundamentally different. It is intrinsically interrupt driven and social. Ad hoc communication and community is at its core. As we saw, Snapchat was the choice for her because she is in the flow of sending and receiving messages all day long. So it was natural for her to use Snapchat for this use case. It was simply another interaction for her.

Mobile has now become a verb. It’s not about the information we’re seeking, it’s about the communal activity and experiences we are having. Mobile has become this constant activity of communication, of stimulus and response, shared experience across a community.

Mobile touches something primal within us at a level that the serial web experience cannot. We’ve moved from information explorers to experience hunter gathers and like hunter gatherers, we are constantly forging for the next experience. It’s no wonder we are now “always on our phones.” These applications extend and enrich our experience as never before.

Our ever-present and always connected mobile platforms are moving us to a more interrupt driven, multi-tasking way of conducting ourselves. While mobile voice initiated this trend, SMS and now application notifications have exponentially increased this mode of operation. More and more of our interactions are short asynchronous communications. This leads to a sort of “quantum theory of experience” where we interact in small discrete and often disparate units of communication. Any application that reduces interaction friction and helps the user effectively multi-task has intrinsic value to the user.

So given that mobile is a verb, what are the characteristics of applications that enhance that experience?

First they have to be seamless, allowing the end user to quickly move from interaction to interaction. User interfaces have to be simple and intuitive. For example, iOS 8 is making this easier at a platform level with App Extensions, a way for apps to seamlessly share functions and keep the user experience simple and focused.

Second, apps need to do one thing and do that well. Find your verb. Again, Snapchat is the perfect example of that. Make your action, your verb, straightforward and focused. Allow the user to “dip” into your function and then quickly and easily jump back. Don’t clutter your app with too many functions are actions.

You see this trend at work in the changes that Facebook is making. Instead of a giant single blue app that does everything, Facebook is moving to a constellation of applications. While they share data and services on the backend, the apps themselves are moving to a more single purpose model.

We see this trend everywhere today with “on-demand” applications that provide services to the mobile consumer. You want a meal, in just a few clicks Spoonrocket will have it there. How about a ride?, Uber has you covered. Going out, Care.com can get you a baby sitter. You can now even talk to a Doctor on demand when you are ill, Dr on Demand.

Third, use notifications effectively. Notifications when designed correctly fit in perfectly with the async, interrupt driven model. When a notification leads to a single purpose action that can be quickly performed, it maintains the communication flow. However one that leads to a complex and time consuming set of actions will be seen as “intrusive” by the end user. They need to be timely and quick in line with the quantum theory of mobile experience.

Fourth, make it conversational. Apps are no longer solitary experiences. They always have a community setting. Find ways to leverage that so the users community benefits as well. Even informational applications can make use of this. Flipboard is a great example of that where news is now social and bundled in beautiful shared magazines. In a sense, Siri and Google Now are examples of how information search has become conversational, context aware, and seamlessly integrated with the async, conversational mobile experience.

Last, go with the flow and make it fun and entertaining. Venmo is an interesting application of this. Venmo makes it easy to make small payments, really popular with college students. My twenty something highlighted for me however there is sort of an entertainment value to this. When she and her friends use it, they attach funny messages to the payments. So in addition to the purpose of payments, there is an entertainment and social dimension to the application. Remember as we forage for these experiences, ones that are entertaining as well as informative will be ones that we pay attention to.

Mobile has become a verb. To be successful, applications need to think of themselves as verbs as well, an integrated part of the consumers constant dance of communications and interaction. Apps that join the dance and bring real value will be a success with the new mobile hunter gatherer.