There are four ways users do stuff on their mobile device…developers only code for two

When most people think of doing something on their mobile phone, they think “There’s an app for that.” Credit Apple for a great platform and really catchy tagline. But in actuality, there are four ways that people “get stuff done” on a mobile device:

  • Click on an app: Duh.  A user clicks on an an app and does something useful.  Think Safari or Google Maps.
  • Notifications: A user gets an annoying notification that launches their app, with some context (i.e. Facebook or Twitter).
  • Through the web: There’s no app for what I want to do!!! Arrg! Ok, ok – I will just search on Google.
  • Through voice: Yes, you can get things done through voice!  Google Voice Actions allows you to long-press a button and perform operations such as call a contact, send a text message, and get directions to a location.

Now the first leg is already well-known.  There are almost a half million apps on the iTunes App Store, with another couple hundred thousand on the Android Market.  The second leg and third legs have been there for a while as well.  Push notifications are quite mature, and users have had access to a full-fledged web browser since the first iteration of the iPhone came out.  Even the fourth leg has existed for a bit – the most mature implementation is Google’s Voice Actions, but others exist as well (i.e. Nuance).

However, I think there is a lot of innovation in the last two legs that app developers have yet to take full advantage of.  Microsoft’s upcoming release of Mango features AppConnect, which integrates apps across the phone, notably including search.  It’s a great feature that may eventually create a seamless transition between the first and third legs.  Imagine typing in a search, and then being able to carry through on your intention from there with an app.  For example, search for a restaurant and then look up its rating within your Yelp app.

In addition, Google’s Voice Recognition is really underutilized for such an awesome product.  The API is relatively straightforward to use.  In addition, Apple is widely expected to release Voice Control (their version of Google Voice Actions) in the next release of iOS or the following.  Voice isn’t now a strong fourth leg, but I think it will rapidly become one, notably once Apple releases Voice Control.

If you want your app to be “sticky,” or one that users access often, make it easy to access and implement from each of the four main pillars, and not just by clicking on your app.

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