All’s not well in the world of mobile apps, claims Tsiki Naftaly, CEO of Israeli app development start-up Zemingo. “The mistake most companies make is to try to develop a mobile app that will evoke their website, but that doesn’t take into consideration the differences in how people use smartphones and tablets versus how they use the web,” he said. “For mobile apps, a successful design makes all the difference in usability and functionality – and in acceptance by users. Unfortunately, most designers and customers just don’t get it.”
To fix that, he said, programmers need to do what his company does – evaluate the way people are going to use the app and write the app to those specifications, instead of throwing in the latest “cool” routines and features that show off how adept they are at programming, but just confuse users.
With mobile devices so ubiquitous and thousands of new apps appearing weekly, one would think programmers and designers would be sensitive to the advantages, and limitations, of what they can “stuff” into an app. Maybe they are, Naftaly said – but the customers, who pay for the work, are the ones calling the tune, and most have not reached the point where they are willing to trust the professionals who know, or should know, what proper design looks like. “The job of the design and programming team is to lead the customer and show them what is possible – and what isn’t.”
That philosophy doesn’t sit well with many companies planning their apps – because it entails giving up control of the creative process. “Websites have a lot of features, and often companies want to keep them all on their mobile apps,” said Naftaly. “But it doesn’t work. Device screen sizes, screen interaction, cameras, GPS chips, accelerometers, and other features of devices all affect the way the app behaves, and in order to build a successful app you need to take all that into account.”
Zemingo, which was established in 2009, is Israel’s largest development studio dedicated strictly to developing mobile apps, strives to lead the customer, instead of the other way round, which makes it a standout among app developers, Naftaly said. The company employs about 70 people, and has dozens of customers in Israel, the US, and Europe, all of which are willing to follow Zemingo’s guidance in developing their mobile apps. With Zemingo’s recent acquisition of New York-based design studio YellowTale, the company will have an opportunity to spread its philosophy faster and farther than in the past. Among YellowTale’s customers are heavyweights like communications firm Eurocom, Stanley Tools, and media giant Clear Channel.
As an example, Naftaly cites Zemingo’s work with Swiss security firm Securitas AB. “Before we got involved with Securitas, they had a typical app for their salespeople, to record orders, file reports, and schedule appointments.” It was much like the web interface the salespeople used in office – totally unsuited for on-the-go salespeople, said Naftaly. “We sent out a product expert to accompany salespeople in the field and see how they work, and proceeded to design the app based on that experience.”
Now, instead of taking out a ruler to measure the distance between alarm sensors, and then evaluating what products are available and what would work best, Securitas salespeople sit with a customer and fill out an extensive questionnaire with them – with the answers sent to the cloud, where they are analyzed and receive an appropriate response. “For example, if a customer has a dog, there are certain sensors that work better than others,” said Naftaly. “Previously, the salesperson might not have recorded that data, and offered choices that the engineering team would nix. Now, if the customer says he has a pet, only the relevant sensors that can operate in that environment are available.”
Recording the site’s layout with their tablet camera, salespeople can get an automatic optimized wiring layout – and an automatic e-contract, that is prepared in the cloud and presented to the customer on-site, instead of being faxed or mailed over. “The bottom line is that Securitas salespeople save about a half hour preparing for and tidying up after a sales call – so if they typically make 50 sales calls a month, the app we developed saves them 25 hours, which they can dedicate to making even more sales calls.”
That the entire mobile app industry doesn’t design apps using this formula is somewhat surprising – but with pressure from customers and a desire of programmers to “show off” their technology, the vast majority of apps are just not up to his standards, said Naftaly. “A lot of programmers build an algorithm and then explain to customers how great it is. The right question is not whether it is great or had a lot of capabilities – but is it necessary. Until companies learn to ask that question, as we have, mobile apps will continue to be less than they can be.”