Smart mobile phones are truly a wonderful invention. They’ve made almost every aspect of our daily lives more convenient (and isolating, but that’s a different subject), and have put enormous amounts of both useful and (useless) information at our fingertips. There are now mobile phone applications – apps – for virtually everything. There are apps for banking and investing, apps for creating art and editing photos, apps for all kinds of games, apps for news and information, apps for creating music, apps for traveling, apps for finding restaurants, apps for buying movie tickets, and of course apps for dating. And the list goes on. Whew!
As a writer of information designed to help end users have the best possible experience using a software program and as a user myself, I am keenly interested in how to get assistance when using mobile apps. To that end, I’ve taken a look at some of my favorite apps on my own phone, an Apple iPhone 4S, to see how the online help or user assistance stacks up. I wasn’t sure what I would find out, but it turned out to be a very interesting investigation.
My Online Banking App
I’ll admit it – I hate waiting in lines, especially at my bank. Just drives me crazy. The advent of online banking has really been a positive force in my life as it allows me to avoid those dreaded Saturday morning lines.
The first app that I looked at on my phone was the online banking app for my own bank. As part of my investigation into the user assistance for my banking app, I asked myself the following questions:
When using the app, when do I need online help?
How do I find the online help?
When I find the online help, does it actually help me?
My own bank’s mobile app allows me to do many things, including check my account balances and recent transactions, transfer funds between accounts, pay bills online, arrange for a check deposit and even find locations of different branches. Pretty basic stuff.
The answer to the first question, when do I need help, is simple – not very often. This app is simple to use and conforms to most of the de facto user interface standards for mobile apps. For example, after I log into my account from the opening screen, I get a summary of my account balances (which I won’t show you here because it’s frankly none of your business). On that screen, I see a now familiar three horizontal lines symbol. I’ve seen this symbol everywhere in mobile apps so by now, I suspect that tapping on it will display something, probably a menu. I tap the symbol and voila! A menu slides in from the left.
The menu gives me access to all the different functions available in the app, and even includes a link to Help, thereby answering my second question, how do I find the online help. I tap Help on the menu.
Ah, now here’s some useful information. Apparently I can get help about any screen in the app simply by tapping the screen title. The instruction for this is simple and to the point. There are no images, nor are there any really necessary, in my opinion.
I have two complaints about this. One, I have to know to tap Help on the side menu to learn this trick. Two, I subsequently discovered that this is the ONLY help available from the side menu. You actually DO have to tap a screen title to get help for that screen. It’s the only way to get context-sensitive help. I would never have thought to tap the page title as that is not quite standard mobile user interface behavior. But in this case, this help topic available on the menu does teach me how to get help in the rest of the app and so is quite useful. The answer to my third question – when I find help, does it help me? – would have to be yes.
So now that I’ve learned how to access help in the rest of the app, I was eager to try it out. I tapped the three horizontal lines symbol again to display the menu, and then I tapped Transfers.
On the Transfers screen, I tapped the screen title and lo and behold, a help topic opened.
As shown in the above screen, the help is very simple. It’s written with a fair minimum of text. While I could scroll down within the help screen, there was no reason to do so because there was only the simple content shown above.
In terms of writing style, I personally would advocate less text. First, I would have omitted the lead-in sentence “In the Transfer form….” because the Transfers screen only HAS the single form. It’s extra words that I don’t need. And if I wanted to get really picky, I would have omitted “the” from bullet text. You can get away with “Enter transfer amount.” without the article “the” although the Transfer From and Transfer To bullet text seems clunky without the article.
Finally, I can easily close the help screen by tapping the encircled X symbol, another standard of user interface design.
That concludes my investigation into the mobile online help for my own banking app. The next article will take a look at the online help for a mobile art app that I use. Why not take a look at the mobile user assistance for your own banking app and see how it stacks up?