It’s no secret that the world has moved to mobile communications in a big way. This not only includes telephone and text messaging, but also an growing variety of applications from gaming and social media to productivity and shopping. Like their older cousins in the desktop and web-based universes, these new apps have been captivating the public and will continue to do so. And just like traditional software applications, the importance of user assistance cannot be overstated.
How popular and widespread is mobile usage? Consider the following data:
- Out of more than seven billion people living on the planet, there are now estimated to be over six billion people with mobile subscriptions.
- 50% of the average global mobile web users now use their mobile devices as their primary means of getting online.
- The average person actively uses 6.5 apps in a 30-day period.
- 80% of mobile time is spent using apps.
Those are pretty amazing numbers. They point to very logical conclusion that mobile apps aren’t going away. In fact, their use will only increase as the technology becomes more advanced and visually dazzling.
However, as the use of mobile apps continues to increase, the need for on-the-spot, efficient and useful user assistance will also increase. So people will continue to need help using these new and wonderful mobile apps, whether for phone or tablet.
I’ve taken a good look at the help available for the apps that I use on my own mobile devices and I’ve found them mostly wanting. Generally it seems to me that mobile help is often an afterthought. In the rush to go “mobile” and be early to market, companies typically consider mobile help last, if at all. Interestingly, we never seem to learn from the past; when software applications first appeared on desktop computers, the help was often lacking in completeness, accessibility and usability.
So what’s wrong with today’s mobile help?
- A lot of is not specifically designed for mobile use. Help authoring tools are now offering export features that allow existing online help, designed for desktop or web-based applications, to be ported to a format that can be displayed on a mobile device.
- It’s not visual enough. There’s too much text-based help, and mobile apps are visual beasts.
- There’s either not enough information or there’s too much information.
- A lot of apps make it difficult to find the help, often forcing the user to go to a separate screen to get help.
The best mobile apps are, like their older desktop and web-based applications, designed with user assistance integrated into the app itself. But these seem to be few and far between. Again, software companies are often under pressure to deliver an app to market as quickly as possible, and in that rush, it’s the documentation that often suffers.
I will provide some examples of good and bad mobile help in future articles. For now, take a look at your own mobile apps and see how your own user assistance stacks up. CohenWrite of Greenwich, CT can help.