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Is your enterprise iPhone app user-friendly?

Mobile enterprise apps running on iPhones, Androids and other smartphones must be "user-friendly"

Many CIOs bringing mobile apps into the enterprise have heard this criticism from workers: Your mobile apps are crappy and confusing, which is why we don't use them. The user-friendly mantra started by Apple-"It just works!"-has become a recurring nightmare for CIOs.

Mobile apps are a bit like a "dog's breakfast, frankly," says CTO Martin Hudson of Mobile Data Systems, a London-based consultancy. Mobile Data Systems is often called in when an enterprise mobile app project has gone awry-that is, there's little to no engagement with the app from the target audience.

Truth is, CIOs often fail when attempting to rush a mobile app out there. They either take an overly simplistic approach, by converting a mobile website to an app, or an overly complex approach, by jamming features of a desktop app into a mobile one. The end result, in both cases, is a mobile app that isn't easy to use.

"It's not the IT professional's fault," Hudson says. "They want to do a good job, and [to them] this means putting in as much stuff as you can... But on a mobile device, less is more. Understanding where to draw the line takes a little bit of experience."

Slideshow: 15 Best iPhone Apps for Newbies (2012)

For the CIO, there's much at stake. A failed mobile app can raise the board of directors' ire and put the CIO on the hot seat. After all, the board's made a high-profile investment that not only isn't paying off but is making the company look inept. Hudson's team usually must work closely with a subcommittee appointed by the board of directors to overlook this crisis.

So why do CIOs fail? Everyone knows that a mobile app largely depends on its user friendliness-the calling card of the mobile app world. Most CIOs, though, can't define what it is to be "user friendly." If you can't define it, then your mobile app project is probably doomed.

Hudson has a definition that works well: 80 percent of users can perform the most important task on their first attempt.

Mobile Data Systems starts every mobile app project by doing an app mockup and gathering 10 to 15 people who fit the target-user demographic. The group is given a single attempt to perform the most important task without any references or documentation.

Each person gives a streaming commentary on what they're doing and thinking. Mobile Data Systems records the action but does not correct users when they take a wrong turn. After the trial, Mobile Data Systems adjusts the mockup and gathers another group of people.

"At the end of the third cycle, we usually get to 80 percent," says Hudson. Only when the 80 percent mark is hit does Mobile Data Systems move the mobile app project forward.

That's how Hudson defines user friendliness.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

Read more about applications/development in CIO's Applications/Development Drilldown.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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