"Mobile First" for Enterprise Mobility

It’s happening: The technology shift we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. We now are no longer anchored to our desks, shackled to our desktop computers.

So with this nirvana of smart mobile phones and powerful tablets, why aren’t we much happier? With access to information and applications on our mobile devices, why isn’t it easier to find information and share it with our co-workers, whether we’re commuting to work, on a sales call or sitting in a conference room?

The problem is clear. The experiences on our mobile devices aren’t great. Why not? Most successful software vendors have created hit apps on the desktop and are migrating them to mobile platforms. Most of them take this approach: “My customers know how to use my app on the desktop, so I need to make sure the mobile version looks and feels the same.”

And that’s where everything goes wrong. Those painful experiences on our mobile devices exist because vendors are trying to build apps that mimic the look and feel of desktop solutions. Why doesn’t that work? Well, most mobile devices are VERY different from desktop PCs – in three major ways:

  1. The most obvious difference is the screen real estate – most desktop screens are 30 to 50 times bigger than a mobile phone. When you squish down a big app to fit in that little window, you get a bad user experience.
  2. Another discrepancy involves touch – most mobile devices are designed to be operated by touching, swiping and pinching. But desktop apps that are ported to mobile devices aren’t optimized for touch – the recommended size for a touch-capable button on a device is 44 pixels by 44 pixels, while most ported desktop apps are much smaller. That means the apps are hard to use with your finger or thumb, and that translates into a bad user experience.
  3. Finally, mobile devices have features that desktop PCs don’t have, such as front- and rear-facing cameras, as well as other sensors like GPS and accelerometers that know about the direction of the device and whether it’s horizontal or vertical. The lack of support for the device’s unique functionality also creates a bad user experience.

With all of these contributors to a bad user experience, it’s no wonder end users are increasingly dissatisfied with their mobile business experiences.

The fallacy of force-fitting desktop apps into smartphones and tablets makes us proponents of the newer approach called “Mobile First.” The idea is simple: Developers should be building for mobile before they build a desktop app. And we’re not just talking the talk; we’re walking the walk.

In our newly launched Infragistics Enterprise Mobility Suite, with its enhanced solutions, we are focusing on building apps for end users in large enterprises. When we began planning the apps in this suite, we knew we had to take a Mobile First approach to create an experience that customers would love. As a company with a legacy in helping developers build marvelous apps for Windows and the Web, we know the importance of optimizing experiences for a platform.

Our first solution, ReportPlus, is a great example of how we’ve embraced Mobile First. Most business intelligence tools on the market are heavyweight, complex tools that connect to industrial-strength database back-ends. The goal of these apps is to enable end users to conduct their own research and answer their own questions. For example, as an end user, you might ask, “What happens to retail sales between Christmas and New Year’s Day?” These desktop solutions are complicated and require training. Often the information that comes out of these systems provides visualizations that are not very good.

Our team has solved these problems in a Mobile First way. We asked ourselves, “What would an amazing experience look and feel like if you were trying to answer business questions on an iPad?” And “What results and charts would impress your boss?” So we set to work building a mobile dashboarding/lightweight BI tool: ReportPlus, one of the first apps designed explicitly for discovering and sharing insights in business data on the iPhone and iPad. Interestingly, we haven’t yet built a desktop version of the app. When we do, we won’t simply port our mobile app to the desktop; we’ll build a desktop-optimized app.

The other part of our Enterprise Mobility suite is called SharePlus. It came directly out of the challenges of using desktop apps on mobile devices. We love SharePoint. Its ability to enable collaboration inside of an organization has changed the way most companies work. However, SharePoint doesn’t work well on mobile devices – it wasn’t designed for that. So we developed SharePlus as a Mobile First version of SharePoint. We wanted to make it easy and fun to use SharePoint on phones and tablets.

SharePlus looks and feels like an iOS 7 (and coming soon, Android) app. For example, when you look at lists of pictures in SharePoint, you see lists, but when you look at lists of pictures in SharePlus, you see the pictures. In addition, we thought about what people would want to do with collaboration software on mobile devices, so we built a platform that enables custom launchpads. Our customers’ end users can pull the most important information together into new launchpads, and they can launch directly from a customized launchpad into other apps on a mobile device.

With ReportPlus’ ability to help end users simply find insights in business data and SharePlus’ capacity to let them securely sync and share information directly with others, we’ve created a Mobile First enterprise suite that connects people to the information they need to be more productive and make better decisions.