Changing The App-earance

This article takes a look at what's making mobile apps popular, where website designs need to improve, and how we can apply the same concepts of app interaction to our web development.
Published on Dec 17 2014 by Phil Kyriacou

Today, most websites still function only to display information through little interactivity offering not much else. Although every now and again we see websites responding and becoming more like apps in the way they look and behave, which is a welcomed change.

More times then not, web designers are designing websites based on how it looks rather than how a user will interact with it. Which isn’t all bad, except that a user will most likely leave the website if they can’t find what they’re looking for, and in turn won’t get to see the rest of the pretty website. 

This is where apps take the cake. The highest used mobile apps are focused on experience, usability and functionality and then followed by it’s appearance. So let’s see whats making mobile apps increasingly popular.

Why apps are getting it right?

Currently mobile apps are dominating the mobile web, with users spending a monstrous 86% more time using them compared to mobile websites, and it’s no secret why. Apps are leading the way users now interact with information. They offer a simple and efficient way to complete tasks whilst engaging the user and making their lives easier. Its even common for people to check if  an app exists before visiting the website. So what makes a mobile app so special?

  • They make efficient use of space. 
  • Provide simple navigation.
  • Able to remember where users left off.
  • Able to connect with local resources such as GPS and storage.
  • They focus on what’s most important - user experience and usability.
  • They offer a more personalised experience.
  • It's convenient. 

Where's it going wrong for websites

Many web designers tend to stick with the same fixed width layout/concept they’ve been using for years because they’re too afraid to alter the way users interact with the website, so they revert to the traditional ‘safe’ option. And Why? Possibly because it has a good track record, it looks good, it’s much easier to explain to clients, or a combination of all three. Not saying it’s a bad thing. I’ve called it the ‘safe’ option for a good reason - it works. And it works because users are accustom to the traditional layout, but now that mobile apps are taking over and becoming the norm, we should start adapting our designs to follow trends. 

A change is coming

We continue to see websites evolving into more app-like user experiences such as one of our projects ‘Rookie Me’. Larger organisations such as Google (Maps), Facebook and Mailchimp have started the trend of web-apps which will continue to grow and see more of. These web-apps all share similar features, offering the ability to access location and contacts, communicate your decisions, and integrate with local resources. A common design direction among many web-apps is having various page elements separated into floating widget blocks. This helps the user associate the website with an app and quickly identify key information. Let’s take a look at a couple of websites that have become 'appified' over time. 

Google Maps

gmap2005gmapnow

In 2005 Google maps had minimal interactivity in comparison to the what it offers today, displaying merely the map, a search, some different views and maybe a few extra bits and pieces. Nowadays Google Maps has evolved into a beast of a tool with the ability to recognise our current location, calculate travel time, automatically update routes, save addresses and so much more.

Facebook

facebook2004facebooknow

In 2004, Facebook launched with basically just a profile page. There was no live feed or updates. Now Facebook is a social machine that personalises your feed with relevant information, such as posts and ads based on what you like. I think you get the gist. It does a lot.

Where websites can improve

Pretty straight forward - follow what works. Apps are currently winning the race because they offer a more simple and engaging user experience. Mainly because an app has limited design space, so it’s priority is usability. Web design should not solely be about how it looks, but also about creating a rich user experience. This can be done by thinking of the website as tool rather then a canvas. Knowing your target audience and focusing on how they will use you’re website will help create a more personal and user-centric experience.