They say "content is king." But, "context is kingier" when it comes to designing great smartphone and tablet mobile apps. Don't make the mistake of thinking that mobile app design is just about a smaller screen size or choosing the right development technology. Content and context are both important to designing great user experiences, but mobile amplifies context on five critical dimensions: location, locomotion, immediacy, intimacy, and device. Understand each dimension of Forrester's mobile context to design mobile apps that will make your users say "I love this app!"

Forrester LLIID: Location, Locomotion, Immediacy, Intimacy, And Device

  • Location. People use apps in an unlimited number of locations. And not all places are the same. A user may be in a quiet movie theater, at home in the kitchen, on a train, or in the White Mountain National Forest. Contrast this with desktop computers, stuck in places such as an office cubicle, home office, or kitchen. Laptops provide some mobility but are larger and less able to provide the immediate access of instant-on mobile devices such as smartphones, eReaders, and tablets. Location is a key dimension of context, driving different needs for users depending on where they are. Fortunately, GPS-equipped smartphones can use a geodatabase such as Google Maps to determine precise location.
  • Locomotion. Mobile users also use their device while on the move — walking, running, swimming, dancing, and, dare I say, driving. While in locomotion, mobile users may have different needs than when they are stationary. For example, they may have only one hand available because they are pulling luggage through an airport, or they may have no hands available because they are driving. All new smartphones have GPS capabilities, and some have a motion-sensing capability that can detect motion, speed, and direction.
  • Immediacy. Mobile users expect to have the right app at the right time. Because they are often on the go, they may need to use a mobile app immediately to find a price, transfer funds, or update their status. Better yet, a user will be pleased if an application can anticipate his needs based on location and locomotion. Immediacy is a key dimension of context because many mobile apps are event-driven, such as when users get into an auto accident and need to file a claim. The OnStar app that triggers a call when the air bags deploy is another good example.
  • Intimacy. Mobile users identify with their mobile device, and you can and should take advantage of this personal nature in your app design. But the degree of intimacy and the nature of the relationship vary by user. Ida, a bargain-loving shopper, will not just respond but be delighted when you push an in-store offer to her device. Nick, a public works employee — not so much. Furthermore, Nick’s work context may bring additional security considerations that limit the information you can provide to Nick, but not to his supervisor. Designing for intimacy requires you to understand each design persona’s relationship with the device, so you can define appropriate capabilities for the context.
  • Device. One of the most difficult challenges of mobile UX design is the wide range of mobile device form factors and capabilities on multiple platforms and networks. Features such as gesturing, touch, voice recognition, and image recognition vary widely among devices. Device context is key because developers must design apps to use only the capabilities that are available. They must also design apps to follow the platform’s conventions, which are different for Apple iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7. If an app needs a camera, will it work on a device with a low-resolution camera? Device capabilities are a moving target, too: Because device vendors keep inventing new features in a game of high-stakes “oneupsmanship,” app developers must always be on the lookout for new features to exploit.

Memorize Forrester LLIID: location, locomotion, immediacy, intimacy, and device.

For complete mobile app design best practices, please see my recently published Mobile App Design Best Practices.