3 ways a keyboard can enhance mobile UX

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September 30, 2013
3 ways a keyboard can enhance mobile UX.

thumbnailWhen it comes down to it, user experience should be the number-one priority for mobile developers.

Really successful mobile experiences are not compromised, stripped-down versions of their desktop counterparts — they're better than the experience on a desktop computer.

Successful mobile developers "go mobile" first to create an engaging, satisfying user experience, and a large part of a great UX is making the user's attempts to communicate as effortless as possible.

Realistically, user interfaces can make or break a business, and with our increased focus on mobile technology, the user experience of mobile apps is more important to a company's bottom-line than ever before. Consider the disastrous effect the subpar user experience of Facebook's mobile app had on the company's stock price versus the increasing success of Path following the positive user response to its app's interface.

The right focus when creating a mobile interface

When designing for mobile, there are a few areas you should focus on to ensure a positive user experience:

  • Intuition: Is the interaction with the app intuitive? Can the user easily find his way around, manipulate tools, and access all menu options?
  • Speed: For regular tasks, is the interaction fast? The user should be able to perform common tasks as quickly and easily on the mobile app as he can on the desktop or web version.
  • Visual appeal: How do the visual aesthetics look? While an app should be attractive, it doesn't matter how beautiful it is if it doesn't work across different devices. Apps should be both visually appealing and equally functional on smartphones, tablets, etc.

The dreaded keyboard

One of the most frustrating problems for mobile users is using the keyboard. It's too small, autocorrect is annoying, and typing large amounts of text takes forever. In fact, the frustration of text input actually stops people from sharing content or doing tasks and — even worse — can cause them to disengage with your app and become a non-user.

Some apps have gone so far as to eliminate the keyboard altogether. Snapchat, for example, has created a new dimension of chatting by allowing users to communicate strictly through images. Going keyboard-free when developing an app is compelling, but ultimately, we live in a language-based society, and people want to share their "status" through the written word. Providing your app's users with a sophisticated keyboard allows them to do just that.

A keyboard shouldn't hinder your users from enjoying your app. It should allow users to be as engaged on their mobile devices as they are on their desktops. In fact, using the keyboard should be so easy that it's not worth the walk across the room to use a desktop or laptop, especially when 72 percent of Americans keep their phones within 5 feet the majority of the time. Here are three ways you can make sure your keyboard enhances your app's user experience:

  1. Your keyboard should be smart: A really good keyboard should be able to adjust to the user's habits and respect the context in which the user is typing. For example, a user may type "lol" frequently in a chat field, but this doesn't apply when writing a corporate email. Keyboards should be "smart" enough to identify and acclimate to user preferences and context.
  2. Teach your keyboard when to butt out: Your keyboard's autocorrect feature should help the user with good corrections and predictions, but it's just as important for it to know when to refrain. You don't want autocorrect to kick in when typing a username or password, and corrections shouldn't be automatic when using certain features that contain app-specific slang.
  3. Keep it versatile: It can be really frustrating for a user who prefers to type in horizontal orientation if your app only allows vertical orientation, and vice versa. Keep your keyboard as versatile as possible so different users with different preferences can type exactly the way they like.

Whether it's actually a reaction to problems with autocorrect, a small typing surface, or a keyboard that doesn't adapt well to the user and context, the phrase "Damn you, autocorrect!" has become the mobile user's siren song to the app developer. Every time those words are uttered, it's a plea to you to make the user experience more enjoyable.

This phrase is an expression of frustration and a desire for a more sophisticated keyboard. It's a call to arms for you, the developer, to up your game and create an experience that allows users to communicate through your mobile experience as easily as they can on a desktop.

What do you take into account when designing for mobile? Do you focus on the keyboard? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, mobile keyboard image via Shutterstock.

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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