A very nice post by David Beers titled Is the network the (mobile) computer? in response to another nice post by Marek Pawlowski MEX blog entry titled Latency kills the mobile experience; both of these essays were triggered by Yahoo! Go mobile application, which is a neat, eye-candy, functional application, but it's latency kills its usage experience.

At the end, a pretty application doesn't equate to a useful application; similarly an application with tons of features doesn't equate to a useful application. The network, unnecessary information being displayed, badly organized application that result in extra steps (clicks) to find information, all contribute to latency, interrupts the flow, and results in a bad user experience.

Well designed mobile applications use best practices to ensure a good experience, and to ensure good flow, and timeliness is very important to the user experience. It is OK to avoid XML, and sometimes avoid HTTP, to ensure a good user experience; always minimize round-trips, … And it is not only about latency with respect to the network alone, but latency (timeliness) in general; regardless of platform (mobile web and Java and native) of course …

Flow… what is flow? How do you know if your application promotes “flow” and keeps the user “in the zone”? Recently I've been reading about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his views on (the importance of) flow in everything. From the software/application perspective, it must provide or be:

  • A challenging activity requiring skill: Completely involved, focused, concentrating – with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  • A merging of action and awareness: Sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality
  • Clear goals: Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  • Direct, immediate feedback, a sense of control;: Knowing the activity is doable – that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  • Concentration on the task at hand: Sense of serenity – no worries about self, feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego – afterwards feeling of transcending ego in ways not thought possible
  • A loss of self-consciousness, an altered sense of time: Timeliness – thoroughly focused on present, don't notice time passing
  • Intrinsic motivation: Whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward

…in mobility it is about now, about getting to information quickly, and for this to happen, there must be clarity, it must be direct, information must be well organized, response time must be acceptable. It is about understanding the essence of the mobile experience…