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Time Travel Lesson: from IE4 to iOS

. PeteW

Once upon a time, back in the year 2001, there was a cool new Web browser called Internet Explorer 4.0.

It let Web designers and developers do cool stuff through new capabilities like a Document Object Model, enabling us to do things like CSS. Almost overnight, it became the preferred browser for the UX community, to the exclusion of many others. The obvious problem was that the Web isn't a single browser--it's an ecosystem with various platforms and platform standards. Designing for one to the exclusion of others isn't just short-sighted, it's ignoring core portions of your customer base and leaving money on the table.

Fast forward to 2011. Apple's iPhone and their iOS have a commanding, first-mover advantage as the first smart phone to really get user experience. Plus, there's not only some good standards to consider, but a whole service model with the Apple's App store selling millions of Apps.

AT&T's mobile data traffic increased 50x in 3 years (2007-9009)--a 4,932% increase. Some of the iPhone Apps even deliver a better user experience for mobile than they do for conventional Web. Access to Facebook via mobile browser grew 112% in the past year to 25.1 million users in January 2010. Access to Twitter via mobile experienced a 347% jump to 4.7 million users in January 2010. Who wouldn't want to have a mobile app for iOS?

The problem is iOS is a nice tree in a forest: the Web is, now more than ever, an open ecosystem that supports different platforms, experiences, and contexts. A recent tweet put past and present into stark relief:

========= “@dhh: Taking your web app mobile just for iOS in 2011 is like taking your business to the web just for IE4 in 2001.” - BINGO! =========

Obviously it's not just an iOS world: During the year 2010 Android emerged as the single best selling mobile platform in the US. Android rose to 44% of Verizon's smartphone subscriber base, up from 2% the year before.

But this doesn't capture the opportunity.

The touchpoints we need to be designing for should really include a reasonable cross section of all the devices people use in their day-to-day lives.

For example, even mobile isn't just one or two OS's--it's phone, iPad-like devices and more. Consider where people are using "mobile":

  1. 84% at home
  2. 80% during miscellaneous downtime throughout the day
  3. 76% waiting in lines of waiting for appointments
  4. 69% while shopping
  5. 64% at work
  6. 62% while watching TV (alt. study claims 84%)
  7. 47% during commute in to work

Very different contexts--and a variety of different touchpoints (each with their own platforms and systems behind them).

Some get this and they're planning for it now. Facebook connect gets it:

Their APIs are really focused on an ecosystem of platforms, each supporting different touchpoints that fit the various contexts-of-use people have.

The takeaway? Consider the ecosystem first and the context of use for the different touchpoints within that ecosystem. The App as just a single touchpoint within that ecosystem. Your design strategy should take into account platforms and systems that aren’t dependent on any single touchpoint—or OS—for their success.

My sources for this post: - LukeW's blog: www.lukew.com - Facebook Developer image via slideshare from David Armano.


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