A Look At What Makes Mobile Product Management Different
If you have a product that touches real-world users, you must meet them where they are.
It’s not enough to have a beautifully designed, well-thought-through web application that meets their needs on their laptop. One of the fastest ways a company can frustrate its users is to keep them from accessing your product’s key value while they’re away from their desks.
Whether those needs are solved via relying on a responsive website or investing in a full-fledged native mobile application, no product is complete without first considering the user journey on a phone or tablet.
I’ve written this article to walk through some of the differences between mobile and web and key considerations product managers can keep in mind to ensure the best experience for their end users. See this as a guide. The principles I include are not strict rules to follow, but they can inform how you make decisions when designing mobile products.
Mobile Users Are Not Web Users
At least, not when they’re on their phones.
Users often have distinctly different values and goals in mind when they’re accessing a product on desktop versus on their mobile devices. Where most PMs might value immersion and time spent in the product as just a few of their primary success metrics, mobile-focused PMs often value the opposite.
Great apps and responsive sites are designed to be convenient and get the job done quickly, simply, and as painlessly as possible. You get bonus points for well-placed delighters along the way.
Supporting Your Mobile Users
To serve your mobile users well, you have a choice as a product team—and at the same time, you don’t.
Any successful product must have a mobile experience that’s as good as its web counterpart. So, you’re going to need a responsive website no matter what. The question you have to ask comes down to resources: are you going to make your required responsive website the best it can be? Or are you going to devote some extra time to create a mobile app?
Start by considering the pros and cons of each to understand which option is best for your situation.
While a mobile app is expensive to build and maintain both from a dollar cost and a time perspective, it can also have the biggest payout in terms of ensuring a top-notch, memorable, and sticky mobile product that will keep users re-engaging.
Native mobile apps keep a user’s time top of mind and allow them to engage easily from anywhere, thanks to streamlined processing times and dedicated experiences. They exist without distractions like browser navigation and search, which are naturally inherited features in-browser apps that are out of your control. Additional capabilities like push notifications and location services-based treatments also enable experiences that only native apps can fully activate.
The main obstacle to mobile apps is convincing your user to download it in the first place. But with thoughtful App and Play Store marketing campaigns, you can reel users in and show them the benefits of downloading your app. Once they’ve taken the extra step of downloading, reward them by making it as easy to use as possible. You should use UI patterns and navigational structures that Apple and Google have standardized, for example, because users will recognize these interaction patterns faster than icons or treatments that are more custom. Your users will have to spend time learning what these are and how to use them, risking frustration and potentially even app deletion. The quick value will increase the app’s stickiness.
All of the above isn’t to say responsive experiences can’t have their benefits. It’s easy to access a website.
A responsive site’s greatest asset is its low barrier to entry. Downloading an app is a huge hurdle that is a constant concern for mobile product managers and getting users to keep the app can be even harder. With no cumbersome App Store review process, a responsive site may also be deployed as quickly as web, and with fewer feature set consistency issues across device types.
A well-designed responsive site is never a bad idea, even in conjunction with a well-designed native mobile app counterpart in the App Store. Providing a great responsive experience can also be a great first step to learning more about your mobile audience while a native app is being built.
Depending on how often you expect users to access your product via a mobile device, it can be more cost-effective to choose a great responsive experience rather than taking on the burden of supporting an app in the App Store. For products that users don’t expect to need often, it can be much harder to prove enough value for an app download. Well-designed responsive websites often take a page from standardized native mobile app UI elements to be as useful as possible, as quickly as possible, to users.
Mobile App Product Roadmap Considerations
If you decide it’s time for a mobile app, know that the app world is one of constant change and innovation. Part of a mobile PM’s primary role is to stay up to date with how the capabilities of apps are changing every day, both for the benefit of her mobile users when planning new features as well as staying on top of new restrictions enforced on app developers.
Something a company building a native mobile app for the first time will learn quickly is that we’re all at the mercy of App and Play Store rules and regulations. It doesn’t matter how big or influential the company is—those rules can mean the difference between a successful, on-time app release and a late one.
User behavior tracking is one of the most hotly debated App Store restrictions as of late. App users can be sensitive to sharing their behavior patterns and risking personal information sharing, while app developers want to use these patterns to inform the future of their apps and ensure a great experience. Apple and Google are constantly evolving requirements that mobile PMs must ensure their apps adhere to while doing what they can to learn about how their users are engaging with their app. As a mobile PM, you must navigate the entire landscape intentionally to achieve what’s best for your own mobile audience.
Mobile Feature Set Philosophy
When designing a mobile experience, represent the product accurately, but don’t confine the app. Simply building a native app to recreate web functionality on a phone can be a shortsighted endeavor. That’s what responsive websites are for.
Native mobile apps create a dedicated experience for users on their smart devices that mobile browser sites can’t touch. Native-specific functionality creates an immersive experience for mobile users that, when designed via UI patterns they know, people will understand and expect, cultivating trust and confidence along the way.
Whether or not to have a mobile solution for an online product is not even a consideration these days. Products that do not adapt to a mobile user’s needs will not last. The question is whether to rely on responsive web solutions or invest in a native, dedicated app. By considering what a user needs to be able to accomplish quickly and how often, a mobile PM can ensure that their product offers the best mobile experience possible.