Going Native: The Anthropology of Mobile Apps


Published on

My talk from IDEA 2010: Think of mobile OS platforms as cultures. Deciding which platform to target and how to design for each—whether web or native—doesn't hinge only on tech specs or audience reach. In an era where consumers suddenly perceive mobile apps as richly personal, where software is content instead of tool—culture matters.

Published in: Technology
  • Hey Josh. Do you still think developing a native mobile app in 2016 is viable?
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • The Mobile App Masterplan: Learn how to make excellent money selling apps and quit your job (no coding required) (Online Business Collection Book 1) --- http://amzn.to/1ZgA0hd
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Mobile Strike --- http://amzn.to/1nZstWt
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Mobile Apps Made Simple: The Ultimate Guide to Quickly Creating, Designing and Utilizing Mobile Apps for Your Business - 2nd Edition (mobile ... android programming, android apps, ios apps) --- http://amzn.to/1nZsrOk
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • very informative ..posted at the http://thecuriousbrain.com/
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide
  • Mobile design introduces broad new questions of culture and context.
    How, where, why do people use our apps and websites?
    On what devices and with what expectations?
    Very different customs and interactions compared to desktop.
    Requires new thinking and understanding of new habits.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about mobile platforms as cultures.
    Helps explain diffs between platforms and why iPhone might appeal to some people, for example, and Android to others.

    More important: thinking about platforms as cultures helps us figure out how to develop mobile apps and websites. Which platforms to develop for, to design for?

    As you consider going with native apps, important to go native with their cultures, too.
    Understanding those cultures gets to nub of what we do: Understand user needs.

    Anthropology = understanding how and why human beings behave. As interaction designers, we're already anthropologists. As we sling wireframes and plan features, our job is to figure out the wants and needs of our users.
  • This talk is an expedition through mobile culture. Using terms “expedition” and “anthropology” with intention.

    We’re like 19th-century explorers of the Stanley and Livingstone era. Mobile web has been around for over a decade, but a broad mobile app culture only really arrived with iPhone’s App Store two years ago. Add to that lots of new devices and form factors—tablets.

    So we’re really in a dawn of discovery of figuring out how and why we use these things, and what they can do for us.

    It’s exciting! Not entirely uncommon to think of ourselves as these heroic figures, plunging boldly into this unknown dark continent of mobile interaction.
  • But we run a similar risk of that golden age of exploration. Tempting to have simple, even condescending assumption: Every mobile user or every mobile platform same as next.

    Or worse: that we try to impose a single culture—our culture—onto this varied mobile landscape.

    The reality is that each platform is a separate tribe.
  • In fact, lots of mobile platform cultures. Focus on mobile operating systems. 4 yrs ago, Symbian & Windows Mobile ruled, accounting for 80% of mobile operating systems.

    Within next few months, we’re going to have 10 major mobile operating systems on the market. Ten different platforms to maintain. Plus code for different devices and screen sizes.

    100+ builds of Google Maps and they’re struggling to maintain them all. If Google can’t do it, what are little folks like us to do?

    Some kind of focus is required.
    As designers, the fancy browser in iPhone and Android, scratches an itch. “Well hell, iPhone is cool. Android is open. We can make apps and mobile websites that look awesome. And it’s familiar to what we know on the desktop, so let’s just do that, build sites and apps for those phones.”

    But that’s not good enough. We need to think in more sophisticated ways about what platforms we build for and why.
  • So consider this talk a novel and hopefully more humane way to investigate these fragmentation challenges.

    Again, I’d like to do it through the lens of culture. As with all human cultures, difference and variety is difficult. But the variety of mobile cultures might not be a problem to solve so much as an opportunity to embrace.
  • Population
    market share and demographics

    behaviors, habits, and expectations

    who runs the platform and with what goals?

    Style of dress
    the UI. your app should fit the environment.

    Belief systems
    core values, almost like religion, that make people loyal to the platform
  • Who uses each platform. Where are your customers? Take a high-level overview and as we go take in some of those customs, too.

    Pew Research Center:

    In US, 82% of adults have cell phones.
    38% use them to access the internet.
    African-Americans, English-speaking Latinos are most active users of mobile web.
    (87% of African-Americans and Latinos have cell phones vs 80% of white Americans)
    That group also takes advantage of much greater range of phones’ features compared w/white mobile phone users, and there’s a similar skew for young people.

    Want to know about mainstream mobile web use, ask young African Americans and Latinos.
  • Despite heavy media buzz around iPhone and Android, hardly the most popular mobile gizmos.

    If it was all about reach, if it was only about what's most popular, we'd all be users of and developers for Nokia phones. Nokia biggest handset numbers in the world. Reflected here when you see Symbian BY FAR leading mobile platform in world.

    BlackBerry, Android and iPhone bring up second tier, the rest lag far behind. That’s worldwide. Picture different in the US.
  • Here, BlackBerry leads way for smartphone subscribers. Not even close.

    Numbers important for where we invest time in design/dev. But mobile culture more than numbers. Buzz, momentum, creative satisfaction, developer environment. All of these things influence where we put efforts,
    and influence why customers buy new phones.

    Want more stats in a handy, digestible stream? Follow Luke Wroblewski (@lukew and lukew.com) and Jason Grigsby (@grigs and cloudfour.com). Both follow the field avidly and frequently boil down the latest market data for tasty consumption.
  • Most popular smart phone OS in the United States. BlackBerry has 40% of the GLOBAL enterprise market, too. If that’s YOUR market, then turn down the buzz about iPhone and Android, at least in short term.

    Heavily text-centric activity. Studies show far more email and texting than other devices. Lower browsing activity. Many BlackBerries ship with JavaScript turned off, and setting to turn it on is buried.
    Browsing has been pretty miserable on these devices, though that’s changing.

    BlackBerry’s new browser users WebKit, and that’s a big deal. Could change overall BlackBerry behaviors.
  • Geography counts in mobile culture, too. BlackBerry has 37% of Latin America smartphone market. Most popular phone for young people in Brazil.

    Similarly, Nokia and Symbian huge in Europe, though they’re a blip here in US.

    Where are your customers? What devices do that population use? It affects not only what platforms you target, but features and mindset you embrace.

    BlackBerry’s not yet a great browsing platform (that may chnage), but it is a great text platform. Plan accordingly.
  • iPhone: incredibly active users.
    Some numbers: 40% of all mobile browser traffic, up from 33% in 2009, despite significantly lower marketshare overall.

    27% of all Yelp searches come from iPhone app, even though accounts for only 4% of users.

    Also biggest buyers:
    For eBay, for example, 50% of e-commerce comes from mobile. 70% of that comes from iPhone.

  • Who are they?
    iPhone skews a bit wealthier and more educated than Android.
    Source: Nielsen.
  • According to a study by site OKcupid, iPhone users also have more sex than other mobile users.

    Go older, educated, wealthy people!
  • You can tell a lot about a culture by its ads. Says who companies think their audience is, shapes who buys the product going forward. Of course, it’s just the company’s opinion (or hope) of what they think the culture is, but ads give us a flavor.

    Warm, personal nature of Apple ads (shown here). See video at:

    Apple’s ads emphasize connection beauty, design, personal connection, polish, pleasure, human, fun, even emotional.

    When a lot of people got their iPhones, surprised by how personally attached they were to these devices—and not just to the phone but to the apps. Suddenly apps were content, not just tools. Entertainment & social connection, a new way to think about software, at least for the mainstream. Not only were phones accessories but apps, too. What you have on your phone says as much about you as what’s in your bag or on your walls.

    iPhone = heavy emotional connection and attachment
  • Compare that personality and message to this ad for Droid X:

    Droid ads more like a sci-fi horror movie.
    Cold technology versus warmth of human connection.
    Tools versus content.
  • Android emphasizes technology and features. It does MORE than other phones. iOS emphasizes polish, refinement, friendliness, while Android emphasizes its tools, customization.

    Experimentation. Cutting edge also means rough edges. Feature count and flexibility at expense of polish. Android users would welcome improved user experience, I’m sure, but it's not highest priority for this culture.

    Also a challenge: Over 100 Android devices shipping or announced. Different screen sizes, form factors, software versions.
  • Android tends to be slightly younger (source: Nielsen). In part, because phones often cheaper.
    (The operating system is after all free for carriers to license).

    While it has lots of rough edges, it’s a “good enough” phone. Inexpensive, widely available, not locked to single carrier. Great recipe for spreading far and wide.
  • Best suited for technically proficient high-end users who don’t mind tinkering to get past hiccups.

    Nielsen: Android users customize phones more than others. Lead iPhone in ringtones, wallpaper, picture downloads. Also more popular for straight communication: More text and instant messaging than iPhone.

    Fewer app and game downloads than on iPhone; Again, iPhone users see apps as content. iPhone is a content/media device, and success of the app culture there likely related to superior app store.

  • Windows Mobile used to dominate market, along with Symbian. It’s been pretty moribund in recent years, but Microsoft is trying to breathe new life into it in the next few weeks, as they launch into a spiffy transformation.
  • Windows Phone 7 will have a whole new look with the classy UI design language they’re calling Metro. I’ve had only a few minutes to play w/actual Windows 7 device, but it’s more than just a makeover.
  • This is a fairer representation of who Microsoft is after.

    Albert Shum headed design team, and he says the team focused on a very specific persona: young socially active couple, geographically mobile, active life, juggling lots of people and media.

    Aiming for a very personal experience that helps you make connections among the people and events in your life. Highly customizable, a phone that looks and feels like yours.

    A lot of clever ideas and evident thought.
    Concerns about some of the interface design decisions,
    looking forward to seeing it in action.
    We’ll see if the culture maps to what they’re aiming for.

    Much will depend on the phone itself,
    the look and feel of the hardware.
  • So how are all these platforms going over?

    iPhone has lots of satisfaction, trailed by Android. After that, things go over a cliff. BlackBerry and Windows Mobile: less than half want them to be next phone.
  • Tempting to try to call a winner. Cultures love rivalry. Nations, sports teams, programming languages. Fans of every camp constantly predict their team will win, trash-talk the others.

    Feels like sports rivalry now, too. Pep-rally mentality of Microsoft holding mock funeral for iPhone and BlackBerry. But there’s so much churning innovation
    in mobile right now that to say that any one platform is going to win in near future is naive at best.

    More important, these are very personal devices. Not like Mac vs Windows. Not about TOOLS, where compatibility is most important. Personal vibe and emotional attachment counts more. Personal nature of these devices means more cultures can thrive.

    Also important to remember, before we pick winners: a huge number of people aren’t even playing...
  • Mentioned before, 82% of Americans have cell phones. But most are dumb phones, so-called feature phones.

    Only 35% of U.S. adults have apps on phones. Only 24% actually use them. 11% of cell owners don’t know if phone has apps. (Source: Pew)

    35% seems low, right? But two years ago, that number was essentially zero. Pretty amazing uptake in two years.

    38% use cell phones to access internet. Compare that to text messages:
    72% of US adult cell phone users send & receive text messages
    87% of teen cell users text.
    Teens text 50 messages a day on average
    Adults: 10/day.
    Numbers higher for African-Americans and Latinos.
    (Source: Pew)

    Also, big offline culture to mobile devices. Not as constantly connected as you might think. Between iPod Touch and iPad, 1/3 of iOS devices not on cellular network.
  • The “appropriate technology” movement started in 60s/70s. When work with developing countries, introduce technologies that fit with resources, customs, belief systems. What can people use and afford?

    Favorite example from 1963 never got off the ground: Heineken bottles shaped like bricks, could build with them. Heineken had big markets in Caribbean and Africa, their bottles a big part of waste. No resources to recycle or properly dispose. At same time, lack of housing. Put two and two together, hey, build beer-bottle houses.

    Need to bring same ingenuity to mobile cultures. Fit the technology to your community. As we just saw, lots of people not hooked up to mobile web, but everyone’s hooked up to text.
  • If American Idol taught us anything, it’s that SMS text apps work.

    4.1 billion text messages sent per day in the US
    • 61% of smartphone owners send or receive texts daily
    • 32% of feature phone owners send or receive texts daily
    (Source: Pew)

    Often the simplest solution is the best. I love the new. I love where mobile tech is headed. But let’s not forget the tried and true. Text works.
  • Who controls the platform? Who decides what happens on it? Defines character, look, belief systems of platforms Same way real-world government works: defines character, morale, direction of community

    Apple’s influence seen in slickness, design, style. Google’s influence in Android: openness, flexiblity, customization.

    A government shapes the actions of people in the community. It particularly shapes the incentives for businesses within, and that’s us! Developers who work within. For better or worse, governance shapes our work and prof environment.
  • iPhone is ruled by a monarchy. Steve Jobs’ personality and taste infuses the whole thing. High polish, features less important, design and style. Upside of monarchy is consistency and quality, very specific point of view, high level of polish. But: Occasional outbursts, tantrums, quirky behavior.

    Also, for Apple, motive is to sell devices. Software that makes hardware look great.
  • Downside is less freedom. It’s Apple’s way or the highway, to the point that it’s called “jailbreaking” to liberate iphone to do what you want. iPhone users by and large give themselves over to Apple, often enthralled by its worldview.

    Shackles aren’t just for users but, famously, for developers. Apple calls shots, inconsistently, about what’s approved.

    If you want to push at frontier, that means risk. Quality and freedom tend to be at odds. Clay Shirky’s great new book Cognitive Surplus traces this back to Gutenberg press. If anybody can publish, if there’s no curation or gatekeeper, then you get a lot more garbage. You get more gems, too, but vastly more crap.

    The App Store may be a walled garden, but it’s a pretty damn good looking garden.
  • Ostensibly open. Open-source platform, you can adopt it, fork it, add to it as you like. Of course, managed by Google.

    Their goal: get people to do more searching, get them to plug their data into Google. First thing you do when you set up an Android phone: create a Google account.

    But despite this ostensible openness, it’s not really Google who controls platform, or even the user who is fully in control of their own phone.

    The true government is one of regional warlords…
  • Those warlords are the carriers. Carriers determine what apps you can run, what app store you’ll use in conjunction with hardware makers: what the OS even looks like.

    Bloatware, apps you can’t delete, exclusive software lock-ins. Woohoo, it feels like 1998 Windows! It’s an open platform for carriers, less so for developers and customers.

    So there’s strong control here, too, but unlike Apple, it’s not about one person’s taste and worldview, but a much more corporate agenda of deals, advertising.
  • Meanwhile, over at Microsoft, we have a politburo. Microsoft is a political environment, groups jockeying within But all strongly tied to ideology called Windows.

    That tie hasn’t served Windows Mobile well in long term, desktop ties held back mobile exploration. We’ll see if Windows Phone 7 does better servicing needs and requests of developers than it did with Windows Mobile.

    But as a company, Microsoft’s biggest constituency is… Windows.
  • Can’t build device-specific apps for ALL platforms.
  • What about the web? Is the web strong enough to overcome this fragmentation?

    After all, the web is supposed to be blind to platform. This is exactly type of problem the web is supposed to solve. But maybe muscle isn’t precisely the right metaphor…
  • Bigger Q: can the web tame this circus? Bring a common language to this babel of platforms? What’s the esperanto? Where’s Switzerland?

    And indeed, mobile web sidesteps the governance issues. Sidesteps fragmentation of platforms. The web runs everywhere.

    WebKit: Web designers haven’t experienced this kind of browser ubiquity in a long, long time. It’s a GREAT browser. (EXCEPT for Windows Phone 7, which runs a variation of IE7.)

    The point is, you can make great, stunning mobile websites that run well on all browsers. Time to get to know HTML5 and CSS3. It’s ready and mature now on the mobile platform.

    And using framework called PhoneGap, you can even bundle those web apps into a native app for Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry.

    So great: build web apps, problem solved, right? Not quite. Build once for everyone/everywhere is a pipe dream, even for the mobile web. I’ll explain in a moment.
  • Our dirty secret: designers secretly love monopoly Lip service to competition and rivalry, freedom of choice.

    If there was just one platform, we could all relax. We’d love to build once for all.

    Amazing how much you can do with the web
    But performance and user experience still make native superior.

    More important: After just 2 yrs, alreadye have an entrenched app culture.
    Mindset is: To do something, need an app. To use an app, need app store.
    Not yet a big culture of web use.
    Most us grumble if an app kicks us out to the web. Safari fires up on iPhone, filling you with rage and despair.

  • So we see this conflict: web apps vs native apps. “Web apps let us build once for everyone! No crummy App Stores!” “No, web apps suck, they’re slow, they don’t feel like real apps!”

    This is a distraction, web vs native not big question. It’s an implementation detail. This so-called fight isn’t really that big a deal. You can do well building apps in native code. You can do well building apps with HTML.

    But that’s code, not user experience.
  • It’s an argument about how to present front end, an implementation strategy that puts our needs ahead of those of customers.

    Ignores the most important thing: the user. What mindset and resources and expectations do they bring to each specific mobile context and how?

    Web or native, can’t provide same experience with build-once as can with device-specific apps. Even within platform (Android phone app ≠ Android tablet app.)
  • iPhone apps should look like iPhone apps. Android apps should look like Android apps.

    Interface conventions differ in ways large and small. (On iPhone, for example, all-important back button is a software button. On Android, it’s built into the phone itself.)

    Navigation, look and feel, form factor... all of these really work better when they’re customized to platform. You’re conspicuous if you visit another culture without adopting that culture’s dress.

    Web is OKAY as a lowest common denominator, but it’s not ideal. An identical interface across platforms and devices not only unimportant but can actually impede users.
  • Also means that you shouldn’t just reformat the layout of your desktop website for mobile. Almost certainly need a different website, with different content and features.

    Need CONTENT specialized to the specific context. Mobile apps need mobile content. Features, content, navigation need to be adapted non-traditional computing environments.

    WITHIN mobile world, as I’ve tried to show, need to adapt to culture, form, priorities, interface of each mobile culture.
  • But you can’t practically do this for all platforms. Important to think about flagship apps. Choose one or two platforms. Aim for the mobile cultures & populations that match your message and demographic.

    Reward those customers with an app that does things a one-size-fits-all website can’t do. Make full and subtle use of sensors, put graphics and transitions to work. Make it fit in completely with their native app experience.

    Again, technology you use to build isn’t the important thing. Do it with native code. Or do for it with HTML, CSS, Javascript bundled up in PhoneGap. Whatever. But deliver a great, focused, bespoke native-feeling interface for these flagship apps.
  • As you consider your mobile app, consider broad mindsets that cut across all mobile cultures.

    By and large, people fire up mobile apps in one of three mindsets.
  • Luke Wroblewski (@lukew, lukew.com) championing mobile-first design strategy. Yes, I love this. Idea is that by designing your mobile product before designing your website, you start from the constraints of mobile: Not just screen size, but time and attention. Gives you uncommon focus on what you want to provide, cut out the crap you find in desktop web and desktop apps.

    So that focus is important. But I don’t believe the beginning of the process starts with mobile design or even any UI design.
  • So you’re going to build front ends for multiple platforms and devices. For iPhone, for iPad, for web, for desktop apps, for Android, for SMS.

    Step back, ask yourself what’s, the range of service you want to provide globally to ALL these computing cultures?

    Floating above all these cultures, tying them together, is you, your company, your goals, your service. And that’s embodied digitally by your API. The Big Boy.
  • THIS is the real esperanto.
    The big boy in the room is thinking about your interfaces as a spectrum of apps that plug into a single wellspring of service.

    Who are you? Who are your customers? What do you provide for them?

    Build a common back end that can serve all of these interfaces, let you turn and pivot to each device and platform culture. Not mobile first, API first.

    Touches on an important cultural shift for all of us. We access the same content across multiple devices.

    Phones, PCs, tablets, X-boxes, tv boxes. Watch Netflix on tv, shift to phone, shift to iPad. Same with Kindle syncing. Different app interfaces, same content. Need a back end that can talk to all these devices.
  • Even modest apps need to start talking to the cloud.
    We’re all cloud developers.
    Again: API first.
    Just about every app should be a web client.

  • Jason Grigsby (@grigs, cloudfour.com): “It’s not mobile strategy, it’s just THE strategy”
  • All these cultures, all these personalities, this is a hassle, but also what makes world interesting place.

    Embrace this variation, design for this nuance, design for mobile culture.

    As designers we know: it’s not technology that makes a great experience. It’s empathy and an expansive world view. Greet these different cultures with open arms.

    Overall strategy considers different demographics. Should do the same in the mobile context. Culture matters.

  • Going Native: The Anthropology of Mobile Apps

    1. Going Native THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF MOBILE APPS @globalmoxie Josh Clark www.globalmoxie.com @globalmoxie www.globalmoxie.com
    2. WHAT’S A CULTURE? ✓ Population ✓ Customs ✓ Governance ✓ Style of dress ✓ Belief systems
    4. 41% Percent of worldwide market share Source: Gartner Group 18% 17% 14% 5% 2% 2% Symbian BlackBerry Android iPhone Windows Linux Other
    5. 40% Percent of US smartphone subscribers 25% Source: Comscore 18% 12% 5% BlackBerry iPhone Android Windows Palm
    6. BlackBerry 40% of global enterprise
    7. BlackBerry 37% of Latin smart phones
    8. iPhone: active lifestyle
    9. Older, wealthier, educated
    10. So you know.
    11. Android: It’s the technology
    12. Android skews younger
    13. Android skews techy
    14. Windows Mobile
    15. Windows Phone 7
    16. Windows Phone 7 personas
    17. 80% Do you want your next phone 70% to use the same OS? Source: Nielsen 47% 34% iPhone Android BlackBerry Windows Mobile
    18. So who’s gonna win?
    19. Yes, we have no apps
    20. Appropriate technology
    21. Consider SMS apps
    22. Governance
    23. Apple: Philosopher King
    24. Apple: Philosopher King
    25. Android: Open Frontier
    26. Carriers
    27. Microsoft: Politburo
    28. Boy howdy, lots of platforms
    29. So what about the web?
    30. So what about the web?
    31. www.andymangold.com
    32. Smackdown: web vs native
    33. We’re all in this together
    34. Style of Dress
    35. ✓ One app won’t cut it ✓ One website won’t cut it
    36. Build flagship apps
    37. Mobile mindsets ✓ I’m microtasking ✓ I’m local ✓ I’m bored
    38. Mobile first?
    39. API first
    40. We’re all cloud developers
    41. ✓ Know your customers ✓ Know what devices they use ✓ Know how they use them ✓ Think appropriate technology ✓ Generic website is a backstop ✓ Build device-specific flagship apps ✓ API first: think service, not app
    42. It’s not mobile strategy
    43. It’s just THE strategy
    44. Thanks! @globalmoxie www.globalmoxie.com