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Back in the days when laptops were the shape of prison pillows and Googlers weren’t considered superhuman 5-eyed (eyes + glasses + google glass) creatures, consumers had a clear decision between iOS and Android. The features were night and day, and it was much easier to justify your purchase preference.

auto apps coming outThat is no longer the case. Recent trends in major mobile operating systems clearly demonstrate a UX convergence. As the mobile environment matures, we see end users scratching their heads wondering why anyone would pay so much for premium devices when the others work just as well. The reason is actually because of contextual usability.

Good usability on any platform addresses specific needs with the least amount of friction. So two clicks is better than three clicks to do the same task; more visible content is better than hidden ones; and larger tappable surfaces are better than smaller ones. Many times, designers are forced to choose the features that demand better visibility than others. However, one factor a lot of designers ignore or overlook is that good usability also means fitting into the right context. This is usually referred to as a platform’s user guidelines.

iOS users are used to the back button being on top and view tabs on the bottom. Android users prefer the opposite. iOS users prefer swipe gestures on rows, while Android users are used to long taps. I regularly see that iOS users have problems switching to Android because iOS apps, in general, follow a very strict set of user guidelines. For Android, however, due to the nature of fragmentation and open source, app developers are more inclined to do whatever they want with their apps. This, in turn, changes the Android’s user guidelines into more like “maybe-perhaps” suggestions. Ironically, Android users tend to go through much less of a fuss when switching to iOS because they’re used to adapting to so many usability paradigms.

When a startup is limited in resources, the UX designer will try to compromise and offer the same UI for both Android and iOS platforms. Due to the aforementioned points, it is very difficult for UX developers to provide a universal design. Our case studies show that iOS users tend to find Android UX paradigms unsettling. Beta testers using iOS kept complaining about use cases on Android phones that Android users thought were absolutely fantastic. The reverse was true as well.

So what can you do to optimize your design efforts?

Once you’ve drafted your awesome set of wireframes, beta test it like crazy. Give your users objectives, and make sure that they can follow through beginning to end, without hand holding. Proactively inquire the reasons behind hesitations and confusions. If you are supporting specific platforms, take note of UX comments that contain device bias. It is your “baby,” so be prepared because there will be at least one person who’s going to call your “baby” ugly. However, if you listen with both ears, you will quickly figure out what you need to synergize contextual usability with functional design principles.

With the trend of feature parity across platforms, it is also even more important to be keen on device-relevant usability. With dozens of apps that essentially “do the same thing,” a good natural native user experience can be what your app needs to encourage user satisfaction.

Good luck!

On a side note, our Egnyte Android Beta program has been officially announced, and we’d appreciate your feedback. If you would like to participate, please email us at: betaxmobile@egnyte.com.

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