With all of our talk about mobilizing apps (especially all the attention that app refactoring has been getting this year), generally when we’ve talked about making desktop apps into mobile apps, we’ve talked about how we have to remove features.
Mostly this is an issue of real estate. On a big monitor, you can have a lot of menus and buttons, plus you have an accurate mouse and keyboard for lots of fast and precise data entry.
But on a 4 or 5-inch phone you can only fit a few buttons, and they have to be bigger since your fingers aren’t as precise; you also can’t have as many menus, because you don’t want users to get lost or confused.
Much of the time this is okay. When we talk about making desktop apps into mobile apps, we also talk about how a big single desktop app originally meant for dozens of different tasks can get broken up into many different single-task apps, designed for short periods of usage.
Still, often we think that these apps are less powerful because they have so few of the functions of the old desktop apps.
But think about it another way. Think of all the features that a mobile device can add:
- Location awareness
- Address book integration
- Camera uploads
- Use the camera to scan QR codes
- Sound and video recording
- Push notifications
- Phone call and text message integration
- Motion sensors
All of these features—enabled by various mobile device hardware and software frameworks—can be used to add to the experience and features of an app.
Sure, many of these features are possible on desktops, but mobile apps and mobile devices offer them in a much more elegant way.
I’m certainly not the first person to think about this. People have been talking for a long time about the “richness” of a mobile experience. More recently it was Benedict Evans, a mobile thinker at Andreessen Horowitz, that really cemented the concept for me in his article on Mobile First. The context he used was a little bit different, but regardless, a similar concept can be applied to our conversations about converting legacy enterprise desktop applications into new mobile apps.
So when you’re thinking about your mobile strategy (or your app-refactoring strategy), don’t just think “What existing features from this desktop application do we need to have in our mobile app?” Instead, think “Can any of these mobile capabilities improve our app?”