Context - the future of mobile

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

The recent and rapid proliferation of digital devices has opened up new frontiers for brands to differentiate the experience offered to customers. ‘Context’ is the next territory to be explored.

Today, most brands are still focussed on getting their first or second generation mobile offering out into the market. Early developments often ignored user experience in the (mistaken) need for “speed to market”. However, it didn’t take long for user-rating to focus attention on improving the experience for release two.

So far, typical functionality on mobile is a subset of web functionality, with the better examples making use of GPS to provide location specific functionality. But the next generations of mobile applications will start delivering against a truly “contextual experience”. This means that the experience of using the mobile site will differ based on where you are, what you have done in previously similar situations, and a prediction of what your specific needs might be at the time you ‘log-in’.

For example, my bank knows where I live, and what functions I normally use at home, so my home screen can make some assumptions about that. However, if I am away from home, I might be more likely to need quick access to the ATM/branch finder. And if I log-in overseas, I may well be looking for lost and stolen card numbers, fee-free ATMs, and hotels within my credit card’s loyalty scheme (because my bank knows what card I carry).

In another example, an airline might offer a different mobile experience based on the timeline of your travel itinerary. Logging-in a few weeks before you fly, your priority might be online check-in, destination guides, foreign exchange and insurance. Logging-in just a couple of hours before departure time suggests you are at the airport, and may be looking for flight arrivals/departures status, location based duty-free offers, guides to airport terminals. Logging-in at your destination airport, maybe directions to hire cars and taxis might be your main priority.

In addition to this time and location contextual use, we will also see designers exploring the various types of device to take advantage of their various screen sizes and features, assisted by more automated mobile content-management software offerings.

The next few years offer more opportunities than ever before for differentiating your brand, by creating new digital experiences that fully exploit the technologies available, and meet the needs of a growing set of sophisticated and demanding customers. The only way to ensure that your design resources are being focussed in the right area is to draw customers into the process, and involve them in collaborative design activities. This way all your decisions are based on the genuine, not internally imagined, needs of your customers.

This blog was inspired by a great talk at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum 2011 given by Julie Ask.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

View Peter's profile

What do you think?