In 2007, before the iPhone made its debut, smartphones were still immature, cumbersome bricks that held little real-world value. Today, the super computer in your pocket has overtaken the PC as the default means of daily computing. According to a recent Nielsen study in the US, Americans spend about 34 hours per month on their smartphones, compared to approximately 27 hours on their computer.

This trend hasn’t spared the professional world either as the smartphone has become the preferred method for email, document sharing and video conferencing in small businesses all the way up through the Fortune 500. Beyond the enterprise, mobile devices, including tablets, have entered less tech-savvy industries such as real estate, education, construction, transportation and law enforcement to name a few. Some sectors, such as manufacturing and shipping, have built customized applications to complete their tasks on their feet, rather than at their desks.

As you can imagine, this shift from the desktop computer to the mobile device has had massive implications on product design, user experience, recruiting, marketing and sales. In short, the mobile revolution is all encompassing.

Therefore, if you’re creating a technological product or service powered by software, mobile is now your core product strategy. Whether you’re building an enterprise CRM solution, an eCommerce platform or a B2B networking tool, you should be building a mobile-first product.

A good example of this is Salespoint, an enterprise CRM startup building a sales-centric tool for professionals who perform primarily outside of the office. In this case, the mobile-first approach makes perfect business sense. Managers need their sales reps in the field making new contacts and closing deals, not behind their desks as data entry clerks. Furthermore, IT managers must adjust their budgets accordingly to account for the increased investment into backend and mobile solutions for their operations.

Salespoint: mobile-first design

Another company getting mobile right is Wallapop – the mobile app that allows you to buy and sell second hand stuff to people in your area. Part of Wallapop’s explosion in popularity can be attributed to its brilliant user experience and mobile-first design. The app is so clean and intuitive, it even makes your old junk look cool.

Wallapop: even makes your old junk look cool!

These startups, and an increasing army of others, showcase 6 key principles necessary to build amazing mobile-first products.

1. Focus on Product/Market Fit and THEN Choose the Platform

For startups, it’s very clear that they’re not made of money. Entrepreneurs typically have to choose between the vastly different mobile environments: iOS or Android. Make the selection based on the devices most commonly used by your customer and analyze the pros and cons of each platform. For example, Google Play is easier to launch an MVP and make iterations when you’re just starting out, but Apple’s App Store is more effective for generating revenue.

For larger companies, a mobile first approach means that they may have to completely redesign and simplify their current user experience. Additionally, a larger corporation may need to launch on several platforms simultaneously to avoid discriminating any members of their customer base.

2. Hire Talent Specific To That Platform

Finding and retaining top talent will be your biggest ongoing challenge. In order to build a world-class app, you’re going to need specific developers dedicated to their platform of expertise. These people are hard to find, so keep your recruiting hat on all year long.

3. A Paradigm Shift From Web-first UX

Mobile UX

Design and user experience reign supreme in the mobile-first world. A true mobile-first approach means being task-oriented, reducing clutter and guiding the user through a simple process with contextually relevant content.

The user should feel like they’ve been using the app for years from the very first time they open it. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly hard to build something incredibly simple. Design should be your top priority so be sure an experienced designer is onboard from the start, or even a cofounder. A good rule of thumb is to onboard 1 lead designer for every 3-5 engineers.

4. Embrace Change

It goes without saying that the way people interact with smartphones and tablets is drastically different from the way they use their desktop computer. Programmers have been building for the desktop client for decades, so it’s going to take a drastic conceptual shift to transition to mobile design workflows. Don’t be scared. Embrace the change from clicks to swipes and the constraints of a smaller screen, and you’ll find salvation in world of unlimited mobile possibilities.

5. K.I.S.S: Keep it Simple (& Strategic)

Most developers don’t understand that less is more. Be very careful not to go overboard and try to squeeze in as much functionality as possible. Users should be able to receive real value with just a few swipes and taps. Start with the most valuable features and then expand the app with subsequent updates as your users become comfortable with the core product.

If you squeeze in too many features, your app will become bloated making the navigation cumbersome. Consider splitting up larger features into separate apps. An example of this is how Facebook separated their main application from the Facebook Messenger app and the Facebook Groups app.

Facebook splitting up the Messenger into a dedicated app
Facebook splitting up the Messenger into a dedicated app

6. Is your app a standalone product or does it play a supporting role?

Some tasks are just far easier on a computer, but that doesn’t mean the accompanying mobile application can’t play a vital role. While people already prefer smartphones to computers for their daily computing needs, major jobs such as design, programming, writing and accounting are still best completed with a mouse, keyboard and large screen. Decide whether your app is the standalone “main event”, like in the Wallapop example, or if it’s the mobile complement to primary desktop software. Everything else will be based on this critical decision.

You likely didn’t start your company as a mobile-first business and that’s okay. Look at companies like Facebook and Linkedin who are reinventing themselves for the vast mobile future. If a $200 billion social media giant can make the mobile-first transition, so can you. You simply need to abandon all of your preconceived notions of how your customers interact with your software and pour your energy into creating value through a simple, elegant mobile application.

If you need an expert opinion or simply want to put your idea into an actionable framework, feel free to contact our experienced engineers, designers, marketers and mobile business strategists at Mobile Jazz. We’ve launched more than 50 successful applications, many of the them with 10M+ downloads, some of them even above the 100M mark holding top positions in the App Store and Google Play Store. To learn more about our work, check out our full range of services on our Mobile Jazz website.


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Mobile Jazz

We're a 25 people strong engineering + design team based out of Tallinn. We build innovative software and enjoy life while traveling the world.