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A World Without Apps

Kobieisen ‎03-22-2013 07:22 AM - edited ‎09-09-2015 01:33 PM

Traditionally, desktop applications have been designed as closed compartments of functionality. Ther are clear borders between applications- you know where one application ends and another begins. To perform a specific action, the user first needs to find the relevant application and then navigate to the specific page that serves this action.


For example, in order to schedule a meeting you first need to open the calendar app. To see the balance of your bank account, first you need to open your bank app etc. Moreover, navigating to the specific action or piece of information you need is usually disturbing—there is so much noise. Everything else in the application just gets in the way of what you are actually looking for.


In the consumer world this pattern still holds as there are different vendors who serve the same functionality thus requiring the user to make a choice. However, in the enterprise there is no justification (from the user perspective) to maintain the closed boundaries of apps.





Things have changed and apps are no longer closed 


It seems as though the mobile revolution has eased this overhead and mobile apps have become simpler with more focused and limited functionality. However, the overhead of finding the relevant application still exists. I mean who really remembers what they put under “productivity” =). Why search for the name of the app when you are actually looking for a specific action or a piece of information?


Modern applications are transforming from systems of record to systems of engagement. Because of this shift, the context of the user and what he is actually working on is becoming the center of gravity. Now a vast amount of effort is invested to implicitly derive it from various metrics.


Once the context is known, an opportunity arises to change the application model upside down. Now you can break down the various apps into their functional building blocks. This allows the user to perform the needed action within the context and without redundant navigation.



For Example, if an enterprise employee is planning a business travel, he will be able to directly perform specific actions related to his context (in this case the location and the purpose of his travel) such as booking the flight, booking the hotel, submitting expense items etc. This relinquishes the overhead of working with different apps and then navigating in each to the specific action the user needs to perform. Moreover, if the context is known, such a system could potentially recommend to the user relevant actions or even relevant people to work with.


Implementing this methodology in an enterprise allows the boundaries of non-integrated and over complicated apps to break down. Then you can transform them to specific and specialized pieces of functionality centered directly at the user in the context he is in.


There is no doubt that the mobile revolution has changed the way we experience software, how do you see the user interaction changing going forward?

About the Author


Kobi Eisenberg is a Product Manager for HP Anywhere, a new mobile platform allowing to develop, manage and consume mobile apps. Kobi has a rich experience in software development and has held various roles as a developer, R&D manager and Architect. Kobi holds a BSc. in Bioinformatics and a Master in Business Administration.

on ‎03-22-2013 11:47 AM

The day of the intelligent app is only getting stronger, and the focus on context aware apps is another great exemplar of this. The question I have is, as end-users this all makes perfect sense but from a developers or product owners perspective how do they have to change their approach or process to ensure that they are creating apps that can accommodate this type of unknown variable without causing too much engineering overhead and whilst maintaining the compelling user experience we all expect from mobile?

Hava Y
on ‎03-24-2013 11:22 AM

As a person who works in an enterprise most of my daily routine is driven by mail and calendar. To make my day more productive key information can be deduced from these feeds: sender name, participants , mail importance, similar threads , tasks to follow up etc... 

Taking into account these vars and relates the to time, location and availability would leverage those app from just being a necessity evil to a great personal assistants

Stephen A. Williams
on ‎03-25-2013 12:55 PM

I really like your point that the application model is getting turned upside down, or even inside out. The user is at the center with apps all around him. This changes the interaction model to a collaboration-focused approach where multiple people, applications and data are working together on a given activity. By applying analytics and automation to these context-aware collaborations, users will benefit from a simplified yet completely personalized user experience.


A basic example would be your smartphone prompting you to call or text a colleague when it detects that you will be late for a meeting with him (i.e., based on the current time, your calendar, and your current location).  For a more advanced scenario, consider how your business traveler example could be enhanced even further by automatically incorporating new information about the trip as it becomes available -- e.g., change in flight time, project status update of the customer being visited, etc.


This is a significant shift from the traditional application-centric thinking of the past few decades.  As @GenefaM pointed out in the previous comment, this will challenge developers to work in a new paradigm that supports a collaborative & context-aware user experience.  The traditional tools that have been used for developing & operating systems of record are not equipped to effectively deliver systems of engagement.  Some of the newer mobile-focused platforms are a step in the right direction, but they do not yet address the design points of collaboration and context (which thus must be handled on an ad-hoc basis).


on ‎03-26-2013 10:09 AM

As GenefaM and Stephen A. Williams commented, getting developers to adopt this change in the design approach is indeed a challenge, it actually goes beyond just the developers but expands to anyone who is part of application building process including product managers, business analysts, usability experts etc.

As was with other disruptive changes in techonlogy usually these challenges are met with semi-closed platforms which provide the tools for all personas to take advantage of these new rules of engagement.


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