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Cross-platform mobile UX design – follow guidelines or innovate?

Cross-platform mobile UX design – follow guidelines or innovate?
SUMMARY: A glimpse of the @pingdom app development process. Tweet this

As we’re currently working on brand new Pingdom mobile apps for iPhone and Android phones, we’re going through the process of how to best create apps for multiple mobile platforms.

Should we stick to each platform’s guidelines or should we try to make the apps consistent in look and functionality between the platforms? Or, perhaps there is a third way, which only focuses on providing a great user experience.

Here are some of our thoughts on this.

There are no easy answers

Developing the same app for multiple mobile platforms, e.g. Android, iOS, etc., can be a daunting task. Platforms are different in terms of hardware, software, users’ expectations, and much more. Add to that the variation of specifications even within platforms, most notably Android fragmentation, and it’s a tall order to cover it all.

plattforms

While developing the new Pingdom mobile apps, we’ve been going through the same process as many of you have, and we thought we’d share our experience so far and some of the decisions we’ve made.

Small differences for the user

From the user’s point of view, things can look deceptively similar between the platforms. If you pick up two smartphones from different platforms today, you could be excused for not immediately seeing that much difference between them. Disregard the branding on the outside; there are icons for you to tap on, things for you to slide across the screen, and other objects that fill up the device’s display.

Let’s look at a simple example, where the same functionality looks very similar in Android and iOS.

First, iPhone:

android

Then, Android:

ios
Not that much difference between the platforms, but still, it’s not exactly the same.

But once you start digging into the details of how to build apps for the platforms, things quickly start to look very different.

Follow guidelines or innovate?

At the end of the day, when developing an app, the goal is not to follow guidelines, however good they are, but to build a great app for our customers.

Our view is that you should treat such guidelines as recommendations, and the starting point for your UX design process. There are, without a doubt, good things in guidelines and it’d be downright foolish not to learn from them.

Having said that, there are times when it’s better to opt for a solution that is the same on both platforms. Yes, even if that decision goes against the established guidelines for either or both platforms. While in other cases there are huge upsides in recommendations and conventions, simply because the user will recognize the behavior pattern and thus find the functionality easier to use.

Your brand + platform guidelines + user expectations + innovation = greatness

Many of the innovations in this space derive from app creators, not from creators of the platforms. As app creators we are helping to push everything forward. In fact, sometimes we are obligated to do so. There are many fine examples of this that should be mentioned, but how about the significance of “pull to refresh” by Twitter?

Cross-platform mobile UX design – an example

Let’s now look at one example. When working on the new Pingdom apps, we have decided to use pull to refresh in both iPhone and Android. Pull to refresh appeared first on the iOS platform, and although it’s made its way onto Android in various forms, it’s not become as popular on Google’s platform.

There are certainly those who would not agree with our decision, but our view is that it suits our apps very well. Particularly the common argument for pull to refresh, that it saves screen space, is one that we feel makes this UI pattern suitable for our apps. But at this point, we are still open for changing this decision.

Below you can see what it looks like when the pull is fully extended, and the user can let go to complete the refresh.

release

So what do you think?

We are still very early in our process, and we’re still evaluating the design and UI patterns as well as functionality and other details of our apps. But it’s safe to say that this is something that has already caused us much time in research and trying to figure out what will work for us. As we move forward, we hope to be able to report back to you with more articles.

Have you faced a similar issue in your mobile app developed? How do you approach this? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.

Some of the guidelines that we have studied: Google’s guidelines for Android, Google’s Pure Android page, Apple’s iOS guidelines. Besides these there are plenty of great guidelines from others than the two main players, for example this one from Net Magazine.

Images: icontop by Shutterstock



54 comments
Pierre Mi
Pierre Mi

I prefer the current version! Too minimal the new one for iOS!

Pierre Mi
Pierre Mi

I prefer the current version! Too minimal the new one for iOS!

José Donizeti Borges
José Donizeti Borges

If you want to create cross platform mobile apps using the same source code for all platforms, try xamarin.com.

Pingdom
Pingdom

Thank you for all the feedback; it is great input for us in the process. At this time, we are planning new apps for Android and iPhone, but we are of course open for every suggestion from you all.

Pingdom
Pingdom

Thank you for all the feedback; it is great input for us in the process. At this time, we are planning new apps for Android and iPhone, but we are of course open for every suggestion from you all.

whois101
whois101

While I appreciate consistency between platforms, especially in regards to available features, I think it's useful to stick more to the platform specific conventions. One big reason I hardly use iOS equipment is that it doesn't work with my brain. While I understand that platform might be intuitive for many, not everyone works the same way. Android is far more logical for me, so an application that provides consistency with the platform, and is not a 'simple' iOS' clone, is far more appreciated. Aside from that, the people who use both platforms in parallel might be relatively small, so why limit yourself to form instead of function?

whois101
whois101

While I appreciate consistency between platforms, especially in regards to available features, I think it's useful to stick more to the platform specific conventions. One big reason I hardly use iOS equipment is that it doesn't work with my brain. While I understand that platform might be intuitive for many, not everyone works the same way. Android is far more logical for me, so an application that provides consistency with the platform, and is not a 'simple' iOS' clone, is far more appreciated. Aside from that, the people who use both platforms in parallel might be relatively small, so why limit yourself to form instead of function?

whois101
whois101

While I appreciate consistency between platforms, especially in regards to available features, I think it's useful to stick more to the platform specific conventions. One big reason I hardly use iOS equipment is that it doesn't work with my brain. While I understand it might be intuitive for many, not everyone works the same way. Android is far more logical for me, so an application that provides consistency, and is not a 'simple' iOS' clone is far more appreciated. Aside from that, there might not be a whole lot of people who use both platforms in parallel, so why limit yourself?

Jeroen Vader
Jeroen Vader

Yes! Really happy to see a new iOS app is coming out soon :) Keep up the good work guys, you rock.

Jeroen Vader
Jeroen Vader

Yes! Really happy to see a new iOS app is coming out soon :) Keep up the good work guys, you rock.

Elias Kai
Elias Kai

Your question is like WHY didnt they create YET a compatible and Unified TV systems, Radio, Audio Formats ? Back to the Locked-In System Strategies / Go beyond guidelines U / r the DOM :)

Elias Kai
Elias Kai

Your question is like WHY didnt they create YET a compatible and Unified TV systems, Radio, Audio Formats ? Back to the Locked-In System Strategies / Go beyond guidelines U / r the DOM :)

David Rydell
David Rydell

Guidelines are good! But I think a great example of going outside is Facebook's sidebar menu which wasn't in any guidelines but is now used frequently in both iOS and Android apps.

David Rydell
David Rydell

Guidelines are good! But I think a great example of going outside is Facebook's sidebar menu which wasn't in any guidelines but is now used frequently in both iOS and Android apps.

Dan Jones
Dan Jones

I would personally keep your UI as consistent as possible. This way you only have to write one set of usage documentation, and if a user happens to switch from one platform to the other, there'd be none of "but I could do xyz on iOS but not on Android" (or vice versa), or "this version is terrible, I wish I could have the other one back".

Dan Jones
Dan Jones

I would personally keep your UI as consistent as possible. This way you only have to write one set of usage documentation, and if a user happens to switch from one platform to the other, there'd be none of "but I could do xyz on iOS but not on Android" (or vice versa), or "this version is terrible, I wish I could have the other one back".

Krystal O'Connor
Krystal O'Connor

I agree with Shiladitya. I would stick to the platform guidelines. Even if I do use both platforms, using a design that doesn't match that platform gets confusing in my opinion.

Krystal O'Connor
Krystal O'Connor

I agree with Shiladitya. I would stick to the platform guidelines. Even if I do use both platforms, using a design that doesn't match that platform gets confusing in my opinion.

Brad Campbell
Brad Campbell

My personal opinion is to stick to each platform's guidelines. I think most techies (even moreso than the general population) have made a very conscious about the mobile platform that they use. I love Android's Holo theme and enjoy the use of apps so much more when they all share a common UI and UX. I have a lot of friends who are iOS fanatics, and I know they feel the same way. I think when you build an app against the vendor's guidelines, you're respecting the end-user by honoring their choice of platform, because in the case of a lot of users (and more especially, users of your services) it's probably something that's important to them.

Brad Campbell
Brad Campbell

My personal opinion is to stick to each platform's guidelines. I think most techies (even moreso than the general population) have made a very conscious about the mobile platform that they use. I love Android's Holo theme and enjoy the use of apps so much more when they all share a common UI and UX. I have a lot of friends who are iOS fanatics, and I know they feel the same way. I think when you build an app against the vendor's guidelines, you're respecting the end-user by honoring their choice of platform, because in the case of a lot of users (and more especially, users of your services) it's probably something that's important to them.

Anthony Ares
Anthony Ares

Looks great, guys! Looking forward to the updates :D

Anthony Ares
Anthony Ares

Looks great, guys! Looking forward to the updates :D

Anthony Ares
Anthony Ares

Looks great, guys! Looking forward to the updates :D

Anthony Ares
Anthony Ares

I have both iOS and Android devices, and use the Pingdom app on both. I think Facebook sets a good example with their apps, using their own menu icons and such, like you guys seem to have done in these screens (menu button, Android and Logout button iOS). That way the user doesn't need to relearn and figure out "what's hiding in the Android context menu I didn't have in iOS", etc.

Anthony Ares
Anthony Ares

I have both iOS and Android devices, and use the Pingdom app on both. I think Facebook sets a good example with their apps, using their own menu icons and such, like you guys seem to have done in these screens (menu button, Android and Logout button iOS). That way the user doesn't need to relearn and figure out "what's hiding in the Android context menu I didn't have in iOS", etc.

Anthony Ares
Anthony Ares

I have both iOS and Android devices, and use the Pingdom app on both. I think Facebook sets a good example with their apps, using their own menu icons and such, like you guys seem to have done in these screens (menu button, Android and Logout button iOS). That way the user doesn't need to relearn and figure out "what's hiding in the Android context menu I didn't have in iOS", etc.

Pingdom
Pingdom moderator

 @whois101 Thank you for the feedback, you made som very interesting points, and we'll take it under consideration in the next steps of our process.

Pingdom
Pingdom

@whois101 Thank you for the feedback, you made som very interesting points, and we'll take it under consideration in the next steps of our process.

whois101
whois101

 @Pingdom Thanks. By the way, I'm not saying to go wild and make totally different applications. It's helpful if the applications on different platforms function somewhat similar, but use the advantages. A very basic example: it kills me if an application doesn't use the menu button on Android, because iOS doesn't have that, and you have to try to find a menu somewhere on the screen. Somewhat related are application settings, that are handled differently (more centralized in iOS). Result is sometimes that there is not even a menu with more options, just because it cannot be handled in the same way. That's a waste, it limits you as developer and us as users. So, please consider the platform guidelines in your development.

whois101
whois101

@Pingdom Thanks. By the way, I'm not saying to go wild and make totally different applications. It's helpful if the applications on different platforms function somewhat similar, but use the advantages. A very basic example: it kills me if an application doesn't use the menu button on Android, because iOS doesn't have that, and you have to try to find a menu somewhere on the screen. Somewhat related are application settings, that are handled differently (more centralized in iOS). Result is sometimes that there is not even a menu with more options, just because it cannot be handled in the same way. That's a waste, it limits you as developer and us as users. So, please consider the platform guidelines in your development.