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Love Thy Mobile Platform

Posted by LeRoy Mattingly

Illustration by Anthony Mattingly


Mobile teams should have a passion for their platform — not just a passion for technology in general.

In today’s incredibly fast-paced world of mobile innovation, we need development teams that LOVE THEIR MOBILE PLATFORM. If you want to build killer mobile apps, — that is, apps that your users actually enjoy using, then this is paramount.

Or you can keep on looking for that silver bullet that promises it will cost less, that’s ‘write it once, run everywhere', and that provides the same look and feel on every platform. The silver bullet approach will almost guarantee a vanilla app, or at least one that belongs on the ‘island of misfit toys’ on your user’s mobile device. Why spend all that money building an app that no one wants to use?

Resist the temptation. Instead, build and align mobile teams with passion for their platform — not just a passion for technology in general. If some of your developers walk around with iPhones, Apple Watches, and MacBook Pros, they probably belong on the iOS team. And if one of them sports an Apple sticker or an Apple shirt you might have a candidate for the iOS team lead.

Likewise if some of your developers walk around with Android devices, Android watches, and *nix laptops, they probably belong on the Android team. And if one of them has an Android Robot sticker or has ever played around with Google Glass you might have a candidate for the Android team lead.

If some of your developers walk around with Microsoft or Blackberry mobile devices, there’s little hope of them leaving the ‘dark side’. Just tell them to keep on playing it safe, and continue to enjoy working on desktop apps. Maybe some day the public will willingly adopt those mobile platforms because they actually like them.

Developers who have no mobile device preference at all belong on the web development team. Long live HTML5! Let the browser wars continue!

Observations from the Trenches

In my ten years of experience working with numerous enterprises that were building mobile apps, I’ve noticed the following real-life patterns about mobile teams:

Members who fail to embrace the platform:

  • Recreate foreign design patterns that are expensive to maintain — the ‘not invented here’ syndrome.
  • Can be ‘Debbie Downers’, adversely affecting the energy and excitement of your team.
  • Don’t understand or even care about the iOS platform’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) or the Android platform’s Material Design.
  • Don’t promote the mobile platform they work with.
  • Invest just enough effort to finish and move on to the next app in their career.

Members who evangelize the platform:

  • Leverage platform design patterns well, resulting in less code and easier to evolve solutions — they ‘use the force’.
  • Promote excitement about their platform, instilling confidence in their team.
  • Are ‘one’ with the HIG/Material Design, ensuring their apps have a natural fit and finish that feels good to their users.
  • Are always promoting the mobile platform they work with.
  • Can’t get enough of the new stuff from Apple or Google, and can’t wait for Google I/O or WWDC.

Love Conquers All

If you want to build killer mobile apps for your enterprise, I recommend the following:

  1. Align with your vendor. Vendor lock-in for rapidly evolving technology is actually a good thing! Think of Apple and Google as your strategic partners, helping you to easily integrate the innovations you’ve come to expect from them every year. They provide a path forward that will be clear the moment it is made available to you.
  2. Don’t try to outsmart your vendor’s frameworks and build your own. You will create technical debt that you’ll wish you didn’t have. Even if you think you are smarter than Apple or Google, limit your innovation, and stay in the lanes.
  3. If you have to build your own frameworks or use open source frameworks, then be prepared to rip them out when Apple or Google deliver similar solutions. They usually do.
  4. Relish change and adapt fast. Build systems that are easy to keep current. The shelf-life of mobile apps is short (three to five years) because of changing business requirements, and because users demand the latest innovations from Apple and Google.
  5. Build small, effective teams who love their respective platforms. They will keep you close to the vendor, and ultimately bring your enterprise more value than you can ever imagine. Passionate teams build the best apps.

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.
— Benjamin Franklin