I regularly hear that designing for the mobile world is different. Apple is often trumpeted as this axiom’s poster child, as the iPhone and the iPad prove that Apple gets and designs for mobile usability.
Last week I decided to try the official WordPress for Blackberry app, which was first released in February. I spent this week using that little app during my commute to the office, composing a refresher post on the benefits of sprints, iterations and other timebox mechanisms (because it’s worth taking the time to assess whether we continue to receive value from long-standing practices.)
On Friday morning, my post was nearly complete — at least ten paragraphs, crunched out in my spare time on Blackberry keys while standing on or waiting for the L. I thought about another post idea and hit the context button on the Blackberry then “New” to create another post. Whoops! My Why We Sprint post was gone. Completely gone. A little investigation left me with only one conclusion. On the context menu, “Delete” is located one item down from “New”. The only draft on my Blackberry was that Why We Sprint post, which was necessarily highlighted when I hit the context menu. A little roll-click drift on the trackball sent my post to read-write-hell.
I wasn’t happy. My initial reaction was to get frustrated because the app developers hadn’t thought that someone would be using an imprecise trackball with his second left thumb while standing on a swaying L car. The mobile world is different. You need to build in extra robustness to account for less precise input mechanisms and on-the-go users. They should have taken the extra time to add an Are You Sure? pop-up.
One day — and a fruitless hour file recovery effort — later I realized that my initial reaction was completely wrong. My lost post had nothing to do with mobile being different. Rather, it had everything to do with the part of mobile that is the same as all recent computing platforms. My lost post had nothing to do with pinch-and-zoom-whizbangery, nor a missing auto-save feature, nor versioning, nor online backups. I lost my post because the standard Are You Sure? pop-up that’s been on computers since greenscreens and on the web since Mozilla was not there. That’s not different. That’s sloppy.
Yes, designing for mobile is different. But that’s no excuse for failing to heed the lessons learned on platforms past, especially the fundamental ones.