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I’m not sure that many people in the world truly need a general purpose computer that can do anything and install any kind of software. Simply meeting the core needs of browsing the web and email and maybe a few other basic things covers a lot of people. — via Coding Horror

This is the beauty of the mobile phone and the iPad. By removing features and complexity, more people are able to use the technology. The proof of this argument first is Apple’s device sales but secondly is the success of single purpose applications. The most successful mobile apps are simple – they do one thing.

Look at today’s top ten free apps list. Each gaming app is one game per app: Angry Birds, Draw Something. Instagram takes photos and makes them pretty. Flashlight is, well a flashlight. App to functionality is a one to one mapping. There aren’t any successful gaming apps that contain several games. Users love the simplicity.

On the other hand, a general purpose computer uses a very different UI metaphor. A browser is one app that maps to tens of thousands of applications. “So where do I go if I want to X?” is a question most users ask in front of a browser. The OS is a way to navigate files and folders. Both of these are marginalized in mobile operating systems.

More than most platforms, product simplicity and focus is rewarded on mobile. The most successful mobile applications will continue to be single purpose apps.

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2 thoughts on “Why product simplicity is critical in mobile applications

  1. It’s as if the appstore search itself replaces the browser. The only thing mobile OS lacks is the ability to manage complex workflows and hardware optimization. But perhaps the demand for these in a mobile context is marginal, so they’re not missed.

  2. Up until now, most computers have been designed for the power user. It seems to me that’s changing. Most users’ use cases are simple and by eliminating them, we gain simplicity at the cost of the power user.

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