Making Mobile Web Apps Suitable for Discontinuous Working Patterns

Mobile users, by definition, are on the move. That is why they need a mobile device instead of being content with their desktops and telephones which can do far more than a smartphone. Mobile users are often interrupted. They can lose connections, get a phone call, or need to focus on some other pressing issue. Unlike users at home and or in the office, mobile users generally do not have a lot of time to focus on completing a task. Even the time that they have for any given task is unpredictable because they often cannot foresee when they will be interrupted. To cope with this, mobile users must be able to work in small, discontinuous chunks of time. The typical work pattern is that they start a task, change focus to something else when interrupted, and then come back to the task at some later time. So the task gets done in small chunks spread over of time. This is one reason why Chat/Instant Messaging, which is ideally suited for working in small, discontinuous chunks of time, is by far the most popular smartphone application.

Typical Web applications are terrible for such discontinuous work patterns because of the non-persistent nature of HTML on which most of them are based. Most web forms require that they be fully completed and submitted. If a user working with a Web form disconnects from the server, either intentionally or as a result of events beyond his control, all the work done is lost. This is okay for laptops and desktops where the user is more focused and connections are rarely lost. However, it is unworkable in the case of mobile devices where loss of connection and interruptions are much more frequent. Users engaged in serious business work will not tolerate such loss of data. Many Web apps do provide the ability to persist data on the server to address this issue. However developing and maintaining such applications is far more costly.

Chatty Apps are based on a unique approach that is ideal for supporting discontinuous work patterns of mobile users. As I described in another blog ““Chunking” Enables Better User Interfaces for Mobile Apps”, Chatty Apps enable the development of a user interface that is “chunked” into small pieces. The chunks are served to the user in a sequence controlled by a flow chart and rules. After each chunk is completed the data is saved on the server and the user moves on to the next chunk.

Among the many other benefits of this approach, one big benefit is that chunking is ideal for discontinuous work patterns. First, the user is working with a small part of the user interface and is therefore able to comprehend and complete it quickly. Second, the user can stop at anytime. When the user restarts, he is taken to the last chunk that was completed and he can continue from there without interruption or loss of data. And finally, if the user experiences an unexpected loss of connection, he only loses the data in the chunk he was working on and all the data from the previous chunks is not affected. When he restarts, he is taken to the last chunk he was working on and continues from there.

Notice that this approach is very similar to the approach of Chat/IM. A large user interface is converted in to small pieces that can be completed as many small tasks over a discontinuous time period. We at Chatty Solutions believe that this approach makes Chatty Apps ideal for mobilizing Web and SaaS applications because it enables mobile users to work discontinuously which is their natural way of working.

Rashid N. Khan

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