Mobile apps are cool but not yet as useful

TORONTO – Michael Carter, CEO of Toronto-based mobile media company Mythum Interactive Inc., said from his children’s perspective, the fork and the mobile device were invented at the same time.

“As far as my kids are concerned, who doesn’t have one of these and who doesn’t use these as part of their everyday life?” said Carter.

The fact that two-thirds of Canadians own a mobile device with the vast majority of them using it for more than just talking or texting, Carter said the mobile platform must factor into company communication strategies.

Carter was one of several mobile technology experts who spoke at the Mobile Experience Innovation Centre (MEIC) forum at the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD).

“We always hear mobile talked about as the third screen,” he told the audience. There are more mobile screens globally than there are television and computer screens combined, added Carter.

Moreover, the mobile device is so much more intimate and customizable for the user than accessing the Web via a desktop, said Carter. He sees mobile technology making waves in location-based services for marketing, mobile commerce becoming the “full cradle to grave transaction experience on your mobile device”, and augmented reality will feed the user real-time information tags about objects viewed through a device camera.

Mahmood Ashek, solution architect with Markham, Ont.-based IBM Canada Ltd., has been working with OCAD students on a project to design a compelling mobile user experience. While IBM might be best known for technology like back-end services and hardware, Ashek said the company operates an Innovation Centre in Toronto, among others around the world, where interactive user experience is the focus.

In an interview with ComputerWorld Canada, Ashek said the power of the mobile platform lies in developing apps that leverage mobility while tying real-time information to the user’s physical environment.

“You can take your work with you and get real time information that is context oriented, like where I am, what I’m doing, what I prefer and get content based on all those user contexts,” said Ashek.

Mark Argo, director of Toronto-based interactive design firm Aesthetec Inc., told the audience that while mobile apps have proliferated, some issues continue to plague the mobile platform. Information-driven apps are often limited by screen size, navigation apps can only represent what the user can see at that given moment, and game apps quickly lose their excitement.

What’s unique about the mobile platform is that it’s based on a new touch-based paradigm, whereas accessing the Web on a desktop is a point-and-click approach, Argo told ComputerWorld Canada. Yet, mobile applications today are still predominantly cool than functional, he said.

One possibility for Canadians, said Argo, is for mobile devices to be integrated with civic services so users can navigate their urban environment. An example of a useful mobile app would be one that would allow riders of the Toronto Transit Commission to locate the next bus or streetcar, said Argo.

“So they can sit at a Tim Hortons or 7-Eleven and wait for the streetcar and watch the progress on their phone,” he said.

Follow Kathleen on Twitter.


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