When it comes to improving your website, there are two main routes you can take. Your first option is to do a major overhaul every few years, start from scratch and recreate your site with a brand new vision.
Your second option is to embrace an iterative design approach, and improve your site incrementally. This approach involves introducing new features slowly, testing them, improving and refining them, and testing all over again.
So which one should you choose? We’re sorry to disappoint our readers who’ve got a flair for the dramatic, but in our min,d there isn’t even a choice. An iterative approach is almost always your best bet when it comes to accomplishing real, measurable design improvements to your site.
The Case For Iterative Design
We’ve covered our love for iterative design before, so we won’t go over definitions in much detail (you can find all that in our post, What is Iterative Design). But essentially, iterative design is a process based around the idea that your website is a living project that you should regularly tweak and improve upon as you go, rather than building it in one fell swoop and being done for good.
In this post, we’re going to look at the case for embracing regular iterative design. It might not be as exciting as a full-blown site redesign, but trust us, it’ll lead to better results in the long run.
Example 1: Google Maps
Think of Google Maps, one of Google’s biggest ongoing design projects. It was initially released in 2005. In the years since its release, Google has been regularly making changes to Maps, with its most recent notable design changes rolling out in mid-2016.
The product you see today is dramatically different from the original iteration, but Google has gotten to this point slowly, by making constant, incremental improvements.
Early 2016 (left) and current Google Maps (right).
The changes made in mid-2016 reflect subtle design updates, as opposed to a full blown redesign. And it’s not just a colour palette change – the update also included new features. From the Google Maps blog:
As you explore the new map, you’ll notice areas shaded in orange representing “areas of interest”—places where there’s a lot of activities and things to do. To find an “area of interest” just open Google Maps and look around you. When you’ve found an orange-shaded area, zoom in to see more details about each venue and tap one for more info.
In this case, Google used iterative design principles to refine its design to improve usability, and improve new features – no full redesign required!
Another great example of this is the Google Street View feature. Through user testing, Google realized that people weren’t using the feature to navigate streets the way they wanted to. Google made a single, tiny change – a redesign of the cursor in Street View – and saw Street View usage triple.
Redesigned cursor on Google Maps Street View
Without an iterative process, that jump in usage might not have happened.
Example 2: Apple’s iOS Camera
Or, there’s the classic Apple example. We all love it when Apple releases cool new products, but their genius probably lies more in their ability to dig deep and perfect the products we already love, through many rounds of iteration.
The iPhone camera is a great example. The iPhone is one of the most popular camera choices around, and that’s because it’s been consistently improving. Check out this series of comparison shots that show how the iPhone camera quality has improved over the years.
iPhone vs iPhone 6s photo comparison
With each iteration of the iPhone, Apple improves the quality of its camera hardware, as well as its camera software. Opening the camera app on your iPhone in 2016 vs 2010 looks essentially the same, but users now have a multitude of options available to improve their photo-taking capabilities.
You can see the evolution of the camera app’s functionality in this mockup by Luke Wroblewski:
The iOS Camera app doesn’t need a redesign every few years, but it benefits greatly from continuous refinements, feature additions and usability improvements.
7 Reasons to Embrace Iterative Design
If the Google and Apple iterative design success stories aren’t enough for you, here are seven more reasons to embrace an iterative approach to design.
1) It’s virtually impossible to design a perfect product from the start
The odds are good that the first pass you take at solving a design problem won’t be perfect. But an iterative approach gives you the chance to design, test, and redesign until you find the best solution to a design problem. You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket and rely on the first pass at a design being perfect like you would with a major site overhaul.
2) An iterative approach makes risks less risky
When you take on a massive site overhaul and make a whole slew of changes at once, you’re taking a big risk.
First off, if you make all of your changes at the same time, you’ll struggle to figure out which ones work and which don’t. This becomes challenging when you’re trying to optimize for particular conversions.
You also risk making the wrong changes and losing some site features that were actually working for you. And because it’s time consuming and expensive to identify and fix the failures in a sea of changes, the stakes for making those changes are much higher.
But if you make incremental changes one or two at a time, then test them to see what kind of results they get, taking a risk on a design change isn’t really so risky.
3) Iterative design puts your customer first (and helps your bottom line)
It’s easy to lose sight of the end-user and their needs at some point in the design process. But with iterative design, user feedback and testing is a crucial part of the design process – so it’s pretty much impossible not to put your customer first.
If you’re taking on a full site overhaul every few years, you’ll only receive user feedback once in a while. But if you’re taking an iterative approach, you’ll have a chance to gauge your users’ experiences regularly and work to constantly improve – which will ultimately help your bottom line.
4) You’ll save time, money and design resources
With iterative design, you catch problems early and figure out what works (and what doesn’t) early on. You avoid investing time, money, and design resource into solutions that don’t work.
With a dramatic site overhaul (which sucks up a lot of time and money at the best of times) you run the risk of making major investments in features that aren’t going to help your site achieve its goals, and you’ll struggle to catch problems early on in the process.
5) Iterative design gives you great data to back up your decisions
We’ve talked about the benefits of data-driven design before, but it’s worth mentioning again: having data to back up your design decisions is incredibly helpful.
The great thing about iterative design is that it produces a lot of data for you to work with. By constantly testing ideas, improving them, and re-testing, you can gather a lot of concrete and objective numbers that tell you which designs work.
6) Iteration leads to better user feedback
It can be tricky to get robust user feedback. That’s especially true during major redesigns or site overhauls, where you’re often presenting users with wireframes, sketches, and prototypes. In that situation, users have to provide feedback on something that doesn’t exist yet, and imagine how they’ll feel using it. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but it doesn’t provide much solid user feedback on the end product.
In an iterative design process, you’ll usually be soliciting user feedback on an actual, usable website, which lets users focus on the product and their experience using it. As a result, they’ll be able to provide more solid feedback on their experience.
7) An iterative approach measurably improves usability
In a study on iterative design, Nielson Norman Group found that, with each iteration of a user interface, usability increased by an average of 38%. That’s a huge jump, and it adds up fast: the median improvement in overall usability from the first iteration to the last was 165%.
If better usability is your goal, iterative design is definitely an approach worth pursuing.
When you run into issues with your site, or you’ve got a design problem you need to solve, it can be tempting to cut your losses and go for a full-blown redesign. And in some cases, this can be the right decision.
But there’s a strong case to be made for taking the iterative route. It’ll help your bottom line, improve your end product, make your users happy, and make your life easier.
Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference – where the company introduces the world to its latest software and product developments – is one of the most hotly anticipated events on the tech world’s calendar each year, and this year’s event held on June 13 didn’t disappoint.
The news coming out of the 2016 WWDC keynote speech is big: all of Apple’s operating systems are getting major upgrades that are set to overhaul the way that Apple devices interact with each other. More compatibility and better integration between devices were the major themes at this year’s conference, with Apple aiming to take on its competitors’ online services and software offerings.
If you had your fingers crossed for new hardware announcements, you might have walked away disappointed. But don’t worry – there’s still plenty to dig in to, and a lot to look forward to in app development. Here are the highlights:
OS X is getting a re-brand – and an upgrade
One of the big announcements in the WWDC keynote was that the Mac operating system is being re-named. Gone are the days of OS X – the operating system will now be known as macOS, and the new name is ushering in a few key changes.
The latest iteration of the Mac operating system, macOS Sierra, will focus squarely on improving integration with other Apple devices. Sierra will introduce users to a host of new features that will allow them to move between devices easily, including:
A ‘Universal Clipboard’ that allows users to copy and paste across devices (think of it as Apple’s take on Evernote)
An Apple Watch function that unlocks a user’s computer from their watch
A new iCloud function that lets users save their computer’s desktop to the cloud and access it from another computer
And for those of you who love Siri, there’s exciting news: macOS Sierra will introduce Siri to desktop for the first time (more on Siri below).
Big changes are in store for iOS
In his presentation, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi billed the iOS 10 updates as the “biggest iOS release ever for our users”, and he’s not exaggerating.
One of the biggest updates is to the Messages app. New features like animations, custom emojis, an invisible ink feature, and handwritten notes are seen by analysts as an attempt to compete with Facebook Messenger. The Messages app will also have the ability to install third-party apps, giving developers a new platform within iOS to develop for. Some of the examples given by Apple of features this will enable are sharing content and sending money.
The Maps app is being redesigned to make navigation easier
Apple News is being redesigned
The Photos app will get an upgrade to compete with Google Photos on features like automatic organization
A new voicemail transcription feature is being introduced
And arguably most importantly, huge changes are also in store for Siri, as the voice assistant will be opening up to developers for the first time. Apple unveiled SiriKit for iOS 10, which lets developers design their apps with Siri compatibility in mind.
Until now, Siri has only been able to interact with default iOS services (e.g. Make a phone call using the default Phone app, create a reminder in the default Reminders app, schedule an event in the Calendar app, etc.). Now, app developers will be able to integrate Siri into their own apps, so users will be able to use voice commands for requests to third-party apps. Siri will now be able to do things like call a car on Uber, or send money through a payment app.
This clearly presents a great opportunity for app owners and developers to take their service to the next level and integrate Apple’s voice commands to improve their user experience.
The Apple Watch is speeding up
The Apple Watch operating system is also getting a shiny new update (are you sensing a theme here?). watchOS 3 is set to make a slew of improvements to the functionality of the Apple Watch, most notably a huge boost in speed.
Most complaints about the Apple Watch to date have been about the overall slowness of third-party apps on the device, illustrated by this joke from noted Apple analyst John Gruber:
Did you know there are games for Apple Watch? My favorite: launching any app and seeing if anything other than a spinner appears on screen.
The speed issue discouraged app developers from continuing development on the platform, feeling that there was a limit to the device’s performance. At this year’s WWDC, Apple announced that speed improvements will be coming to all apps, and can lead to third-party apps loading seven times faster than they currently do on watchOS 2. This should entice third-party app developers to give the platform another shot.
In other watch news, Apple put a heavy emphasis on the fitness and activity tracking features of the watch, and introduced some nice new features like an SOS system for emergencies, and a new keyboard feature called ‘scribble’ that lets users handwrite letters directly on the watch instead of typing. Developers will also be able to better leverage the device’s onboard sensors, like heart rate.
Improvements are coming to tvOS
The fourth and final of Apple’s operating systems isn’t being left out of the software updates. Apple announced a few improvements to the Apple TV operating system, tvOS, but they’re modest.
Some of the most interesting updates from a development perspective are improved live streaming capabilities, four game controller support and multiplayer game sessions, HomeKit support (which lets users control enabled home appliances via their Apple TV), and improved search functionality.
A single sign-on feature will let users log into all of their individual TV apps linked to their cable provider (like NBC, ABC, AMC, for example) with one login – enter your credentials once, and they’re applied system-wide, rather than on a per-app basis. Since Apple TV now has more than 6,000 apps, this feature is definitely a welcome addition.
Continuing the theme of connectivity, users will also be able to use their iPhone as a remote, and use Siri to search Apple TV.
So what are the big takeaways from this year’s WWDC keynote?
First off, Apple put a big emphasis on software this year and didn’t unveil any new hardware. This might be because its hardware sales are slowing, and because Apple is finally recognizing that it needs to play catch up with its competitors’ software and online services – for instance, a lot of the software updates for iOS are introducing features that Google already has.
Secondly, the theme of all of the major software updates was connectivity between Apple devices and operating systems. If the individual software updates don’t seem like such a big deal on their own, it’s because Apple is focusing more on the big picture – namely making all of its devices work seamlessly together.
Recently, there’s been a shift in how we think about the future of tech – we’re moving away from isolated devices and platforms, and towards more connectivity and integration across devices. At this year’s WWDC, Apple made it clear that it’s ready to take the plunge into that future. And if you’re an app owner, you should be thinking the same way.
Last week, along with the announcement of the iPhone 6s and 3D Touch, Apple announced an updated version of its set top television box, AppleTV, and made it clear that Apple’s vision for the future of television is apps. (Apple is by no means the first to suggest this, but they’re being used as the example due to their mainstream reach).
Throughout demos showing new apps built specifically for the Apple TV, we could see a lot of what you would expect – entertainment apps for streaming movies and tv shows, apps for music, and especially gaming. But then there was something a bit unexpected in the mix: a demo for an Airbnb app, for travel bookings.
At first, an Airbnb app on a connected TV might seem a bit out of place, when you’re used to your tv being used for passive entertainment or gaming, but the more you think about it the use-case of a travel app, the more it makes sense, and illustrates Apple’s vision for the future of TV: social app usage.
Of course, planning a vacation with a partner or family is easier when you’re sitting in the living room in front of the biggest screen in your house (probably), rather than being huddled around a notebook computer or tablet. And when you realize that Airbnb is one of ‘those apps’ that makes sense, then you can start to think how many other lifestyle apps would benefit from “social” usage.
Here are some other examples of apps that will be soon making their way to our living rooms for social consumption.
Photo and video apps
One of the biggest opportunities for developers is to port their apps that rely heavily on photos and videos to the Apple TV. Apps like Instagram, Facebook or Vine are inherently social, and thus would be perfect for the living room.
Periscope, the live-streaming video app from Twitter, is reportedly far along in its development of an Apple TV app, and is even said to be updating its entire experience to allow for landscape video recording and broadcasting in order to support the TV formats – a significant departure from its current locked portrait format that’s been used for mobile devices.
Sports apps have some of the most potential for use on a connected TV. No longer restricted to the platform provided by the cable provider’s set top box, sports apps can now be customized to show all of a user’s preferred matches, with on-the-fly stats on her favourite teams, players or leagues.
Sure, these features could also be implemented (or found) on a mobile or tablet app, but no one invites their buddies over to watch Sunday football on their iPhone.
E-commerce on connected TVs
What experience is more social than going shopping with a friend? Whether it’s to buy a new outfit, redecorating the house, or doing some holiday shopping, an e-commerce app accessible in the living room could be a great resource for consumers.
Health and fitness apps
The “7 minute workout challenge” is just one example of a popular paid health/fitness app on the App Store – and would undoubtedly benefit from bringing its experience to a connected TV, where an exerciser could do his training in front of a full screen demo rather than checking the screen on his phone.
Alternately, cooking apps, like Jamie Oliver’s, could quickly become a more popular viewing option on connected TVs, replacing viewership of a traditional food network channel you get through cable.
Limits to connected TV apps
Mocked up as an April Fool’s Joke, via allgaierconsulting.com
Without a doubt, there are some apps that just simply don’t make sense to use on a TV. Business and productivity apps, for instance, will likely have no place on an Apple TV App Store (though it likely won’t stop some developers from trying).
Could you read or edit a Microsoft Word document on your TV? Sure. But it would likely be an unfavourable experience that ultimately doesn’t give you any benefits over using a standard computer screen or handheld device.
Clearly, many lifestyle apps are ripe for this new platform, and it provides a new opportunity for a new kind of app to emerge and capture users’ attention.
What apps would you like to have available in your living room? Let us know in the comments!
Earlier this week, Apple announced the much-anticipated iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, alongside a handful of other new products. The new phones boast a collection of new features and functionality, but the most interesting of them is ‘3D Touch’, or the ability for a user to press down on the screen and be presented with new interactions based on the level of pressure they use.
This new functionality opens a number of new doors for user interaction, and gives mobile apps another leg up in the ongoing battle with the mobile web.
What is 3D Touch?
Apple has flirted with the idea of pressure-sensitive user interaction before. First, with Force Touch on the Apple Watch, and next on the latest MacBook Pro trackpads. Force Touch and 3D Touch differ, however, in that (as the name would suggest), there is another level to 3D Touch. While Force Touch uses two interactions (a ‘tap’ and a ‘push’), 3D Touch introduces the concept of a ‘Peek’ and a ‘Pop’ in addition to the tap that everyone is familiar with.
A Peek is essentially one step beyond a tap. If you see a link to a webpage in an email and you want a preview of what the site is, you can push a bit harder than a tap and a preview window will open up. If you decide you want to fully open up that webpage, push a bit harder and it becomes a ‘Pop’, in that it pops open the app.
What is it Useful For?
3D Touch is a way to give users shortcuts to common actions, and to allow them to preview content from another app (or even deeper within the same app) without losing their place.
Shortcuts for commonly used apps is definitely going to be one of the standout features of 3D Touch on the new iPhones. The ability to get directions, jump directly to your inbox, or even take a selfie right from the home screen is the type of UI shortcut that everyone can appreciate.
And outside of Apple’s standard apps, third-party app developers including Facebook and Instagram are already set to provide home screen shortcuts early on.
Previewing is also a useful function, that ultimately makes users’ lives easier. How often have you clicked something you didn’t intend to and ended up in another app, needing to jump back and find your place again? It’s definitely not an uncommon experience. 3D Touch would allow a user to forego that unintended detour with a ‘peek’ into that content before committing to diving into the other app altogether.
How Can Your App Take Advantage of 3D Touch?
One of the great things about 3D Touch is that it can be useful for a wide range of apps. Whether your app is for entertainment, productivity, business, or otherwise, 3D Touch could be implemented to improve your user experience.
Will 3D Touch Influence the Future of UI?
Absolutely. Though it’s first being introduced on the newest iPhones, it will certainly be rolling out onto other iOS devices in the near future. And as more users become familiar with its uses, app developers will surely continue to push its functions.
Apple recently announced its new MacBook updates, and with it their new Force Touch Trackpad. Here’s a rundown of what it is, how it works, and what it’s going to do for the user experience (plus some cool stuff you can do with it).
Force Touch is the name of the new trackpad that Apple’s put into the 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the redesigned MacBook. That’s really what it is, at the end of the day – a really fancy trackpad. But here’ why you should get excited.
First, it’s some pretty amazing tech. Instead of the classic model of a button that you press (sometimes for Macs its called the diving board model) the new trackpad is set to actually respond to you, rather than you pressing something and having the computer respond to that.
So instead of pressing a button, Force Touch actually responds to your finger pressing down, and provides feedback that feels like a click.
It works because of two brilliantly named things: the Force Sensors and the Taptic Engine (this entire hardware update sounds like a Star Wars script).
These are the bits that respond to the pressure you apply. This is where the actual ‘click’ happens. A good way to think about it is like pressure sensors in a heist movie. They’re located in the corners of the new trackpad, so it’s just as easy to click anywhere (the old design was easier at the bottom than it was at the top).
This is the piece that generates the ‘click’ feedback. It’s a few electromagnets that rub together to provide haptic feedback that feels like a click.
The long and the short of it is that the new Force Touch trackpad doesn’t actually move at all, but simulates a feeling of clicking like we all know.
So what’s the point of all this?
For starters, it makes the actual trackpad thinner, which is important both in the MacBook 12-inch and in the Apple Watch (the other place where this comes up).
But more importantly, the Force Touch lets you have different ‘strengths’ of a touch, and you can build interaction around that differentiation. That is, you have a soft and a hard press do different things.
These are adjustable and customizable in the settings for each user’s preference. Already, Apple has built into the Yosemite software about 15 different things you can do with different click strengths. For example:
Press harder on an address and it’ll pull up a map preview
Press harder to zoom in faster when you’re looking at a map
Press hard to fast-forward quicker in iMovie
Pressing harder lets you annotate documents in Mail
A really handy way to look at Force Touch was pointed out by the Verge, when they said that it’s a little bit like the three-finger tap of old, but with just one finger. That said, the new version has even more potential, both for users and developers.
For example, apps could use Force Touch to pull down different menus, or make a hard press customizable – let’s say you work in Microsoft Word a lot and want a hard press to make a bullet point. That would be an awesome detail to customize.
Other applications might be mobile apps (if Force Touch goes into the iPhone the way it’s rumoured to). Games, in particular, would benefit, since you’re on the screen already and menus are a challenge for mobile gaming UI; having a hard press to pull up deeper menus would eliminate the problem of a small screen with lots of icons on the side.
All in all, we’re pretty excited about Force Touch. It has huge potential to help users speed up their workflow as well as bring more intuitive action into the laptop user experience, which is always a good thing. We can’t wait to give it a try.
Every week we collect some of the best web and digital design resources that will be useful for designers. This week, Apple introduced new MacBooks alongside the introduction of the much anticipated Apple Watch, and we’ve collected mockup templates for both of those devices, along with a selection of fonts and e-books that are perfect for designers.
Check out any of the links below and leave any comments about your favourites in the replies.
10 Latest Free Ebooks for Web Designers and Website Owners
Creating a website is a complicated and extended process. And it doesn’t end with a website release. A long road of testing, UX checking, SEO analysis and strategy building… All that means website creators and owners need a strong base of knowledge to stand out and develop.
This week, during Apple‘s keynote address, Tim Cook noted to the audience that he had “one more thing” to announce. This inspired a big reaction from the crowd, as it was how Steve Jobs frequently closed his keynotes – and is typically followed by a game changing-announcement.
That “one more thing” was the Apple Watch (or WATCH)
Smartwatches like Pebble have proved that there’s a market for these types of wearable devices, but, despite the attempts of many, no one has been able to commercialize the technology for consumers the way that Apple did with the smartphone years ago.
The Apple Watch is the world’s biggest tech company’s attempt to reclaim the crown of leading tech innovator, and with the features and applications it showcased this week, it opens up a bevy of uses for the device for your business. Whether it’s adopted by the masses won’t be determined until its release in 2015, but the possibilities are certainly there.
What it Does
Essentially, the Apple Watch can do (almost) everything your smartphone does, but in miniature form on your wrist. It alerts of text messages, emails, and Facebook updates, has a collection of simplified apps, and even minifies Siri all on your timepiece, allowing for a much less interrupted flow in your day’s activities. It even has a heartbeat monitor for fitness buffs.
As apps are what has arguably driven iPhone (and really all smartphone) sales, the Apple Watchapp functionality will be crucial to the watch’s success.
What it Doesn’t
One caveat of the watch is that, Apple being Apple, it only works with an iPhone. That is, its full notification and app cross-device functionality only works with other Apple devices. It uses Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to connect to your iPhone and transmits app functionality, real-time alerts, contact information, etc. from one device to another via network.
Simply put, most Apple Watch apps aren’t standalone – they are going to be extensions of iPhone apps.
What it Means for Your Business
So, what kind of value does this new tech potentially bring to your business?
Well, the key functionality of wearables is in their ability to incorporate computing seamlessly into everyday life, without disruption. The apps that will be most useful then, are those that won’t require users to be immersed, staring for hours at their timepiece, but those that update the user with real-time, relevant, peripheral information –whether it be about their current health habits, how their stock investments are doing, or airline flight delays.
In fact, the initial snapshot of apps available for the new device, as shown off by Cook, showcased a lot of this predicted functionality – sports scoreboard notifications, digital airline boarding passes, and of course, tweets.
All of these are non-disruptive features that add to everyday experiences, and don’t supersede them. Imagine push notifications of your business’s latest offers, products or headlines, engaging with your users without them ever having to be in front of a computer screen, or even without them having to pull out their smartphones. This can integrate you on a personal level into the ecosystem of your user’s average day, without them having to consciously check up on your business or platform.
A second way wearables like the Apple Watch can add functionality is to impact the user’s real world experience. If we think of the previous example as adding an information layer on top of users’ every day experiences, this way seeks to directly change how you operate within the world itself.
An app showcased by Apple, for instance, links with BMW to let drivers know when their electric car charge levels are running low, along with real-time directions to where their cars are parked (game changing). Imagine an app for your hypothetical business that lists, say, restaurants categorized by cuisine type closest in your area, which displays the nearest ones directly on your users’ timepieces.
Last time we posted an article covering ‘The Internet of Things’ and what an interconnected ecosystem of internet-ready devices could mean for functionality and usability in the future. The Apple Watch is another push in that direction, if businesses use its functionality in ways that:
a) add peripheral information to users’ lives that they find useful and deliver this in seamless nondisruptive fashions,
b) directly change the way users experience their day-to-day, by adding new functionality on top of real world experiences.
With Apple officially jumping onto the bandwagon with WATCH, businesses should start thinking of ways to leverage this new tech in a timely manner, or be late to the party.
With the impending release of the iPhone 6, rumours, leaks and speculation have predictably arisen. First and foremost being its larger form factor and screen size. With Samsung’s Galaxy line of phones (and other Android and Windows phones following closely behind) redefining phone screen sizes as bigger, and the consumers unanimously seeming to agree, Apple, though once describing their modest 4” screen as “a dazzling display of common sense,” may be wanting to play catch up.
What Screen Sizes Can We Expect?
The iPhone 4’s 3.5” screen stretched to 4” with the iPhone 5, so it isn’t out of the question with the iPhone 6 for Apple to think even bigger. In fact, early leaks predict the sixth iteration of the prototypical smartphone to have both 4.7” and 5.5” versions released simultaneously.
Since the advent of the touchscreen smartphone, phone screen sizes have progressively been getting larger, and for good reason. This means less strain on the eyes, greater usability, and greater resolution and pixel count (more clarity and sharpness). The popularity of the mobile web would arguably not have reached the fever pitch it has without larger screen sizes.
Increasing screen size also drives home the apparent trend of our smartphones slowly replacing the desktop as our primary computing devices. They’re no longer tools to simply make phone calls and browse the web. They’re no longer simply utilitarian devices, but multi-purpose fun ones as well. We watch Netflix on our phones. We take photos on our phones. We record videos on our phones. With this in mind, the trend of increasing screen size makes perfect sense.
How a Larger iPhone Affects Your Mobile Website
A larger iPhone screen means great things for mobile website design, if developers and designers use the screen real estate wisely.
As mobile devices approach more uniformity in their viewport sizes, responsive media queries can become more standardized and easier to configure for developers. There’s more screen to work with, meaning less cramped user interfaces and more space to strategically place content.
This means the possibility for more negative space and minimalist design choices, and less chance for clutter and noise. A bigger screen also means more efficient spacing for links, making them easier to hit and making site navigation much more fluid/functional for users that are literally “all thumbs.”
Larger screens are great for readability as well; web designers and developers can set a responsive or mobile site that has the text size precisely set for readability with that bigger screen size. Reading web content becomes less strenuous on the eyes as users won’t need to hold the device as close to their face, or change the text size by pinching or pulling on the screen. The extra screen real estate also means more variety for the mobile web, as many more potential layouts and design choices open up to designers and developers to fill the screen with.
What Web Designers Should Be Thinking
These are all things web developers/designers need to take into consideration when building new responsive or mobile websites, as smartphones slowly but surely, with the iPhone soon to be the latest convert, standardize to bigger screen sizes.
As a last note, designers should make use of the bigger screen intelligently and creatively, allowing for designs that are not only functional, but that visually pop. Aside from more functional content placement, readability and layout variety, bigger screens also mean the capacity to display crisper images, logos and multimedia. No longer does the mobile web have to play second fiddle to their desktop counterparts visually. In fact, with bigger screens, if the space is used correctly, mobile sites can now look much better, cleaner, and well put together, than their desktop counterparts.
Even Apple, once the staunchest contrarians to bigger smartphone viewports, with the late Steve Jobs once even quipping that 4” Android phones looked like skateboards, now seems to be on the bandwagon.
Ultimately, users on average seem to agree that bigger screens are nicer to look at. Whether the mobile web makes the necessary changes to curtail to this however, is still ultimately up to the developers.
Technology’s all about getting things done faster, more efficiently, and ultimately, with less user effort. Mobile and web browser notifications do just that.
Browser push notifications are handy enough. For instance, instead of having to manually check your Gmail inbox for new mail, toggling the Gmail desktop notification setting will incite a “push” request from Google’s servers each time there’s an update in an open signed in Gmail browser tab – even while you’re getting work done (or checking out cat pictures on Reddit).
Well, imagine you’re not on your computer at the moment. Mobile notifications do the same thing desktop notifications do, but anywhere you have your smartphone or tablet connected to the web. As opposed to needing to take the initiative to access a mobile or responsive website for news or updates, users can now just be notified of changes or updates directly from their home screen when they have a particular app installed on their device.
Businesses, web apps, entertainment platforms and online communities now have a powerful tool to reconnect and engage with their users from almost anywhere their mobile devices are connected to the internet, effectively creating a constantly updating stream of notifications for those users that opt in.
Notifications on iOS7
The Rise of App Notifications
And it’s pretty evident that users are opting in. In fact, a 2013 Compuware report found out that 85% of consumers prefer and use apps over mobile sites. This means that over ¾ of mobile users surveyed were more likely to rely on push notifications and home screen app alerts than open up their browsers, type in web addresses, and manually navigate to particular mobile or responsive websites. The survey also found nearly half of the users expected mobile apps to load faster than mobile websites. It’s akin to the remote control to the television set; notifications simply make things easier for the end user, and there’s no reason that businesses and services on the web shouldn’t be taking advantage of the technology.
A comScore report found that users worldwide are spending more time on mobile internet use than desktop internet use, the gap continuing to widen per year. Of those millions of users choosing mobile over desktop, comScore found exactly the same trend as Compuware; that users were spending more time on apps than mobile websites. The overall percentage of time spent browsing the internet by users on mobile apps was 80% in 2013, and 86% in 2014. All signs point to it being about 90% in 2015.
The Future of Notifications
As you can probably guess, there is unprecedented value in notifications for any business to connect with end users, and even with all of the aforementioned trends suggesting this, there is one more technology that’s sure to accelerate this figure even further (if they ever develop from niche products to widespread adoption): wearable technology.
Android Wear Notifications
Android Wear, the long rumored Apple iWatch, Google Glass: all new ways to integrate tech, and the internet, into the physical world in a much more seamless way than screen devices ever could. We may be looking at a transition from an internet of looking at our screens for extended periods of the day, to one where the UX seamlessly follows the user throughout their day-to-day activities, on their wrists or even directly in their plain of vision.
These devices primarily rely on push notifications to deliver information to users, because they’re unobtrusive, optional, relatively automatable, and effort free. Notifications may someday slide in and out on a person’s smart watch or heads-up display, easily alerting the user of new happenings without even needing them to pause from their daily activities, social obligations or responsibilities.
iWatch notifications concept
The less time users have to take out of their daily lives to check in on a product, the more likely they are to stay engaged, as the effort shifts from the user’s end to the server’s end. Ultimately, the user wants to be catered to. Technology’s all about getting things done faster, more efficiently, and of course, with less user effort. Notifications are just the next step in this process, and all signs point to the users taking note. Businesses should too.