Cross platform user experience – creating a connected experience

Hey everyone, welcome to 2016! New year, new blog post. I will write a blog post later with some thoughts on resolutions and goals for 2016. For now, I’ve had some thoughts brewing in my head in the past few weeks. I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about some of my latest thinking starting with this post on cross platform user experience.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about the “Year of the Mobile”. This has been happening since 2010 when I first heard this phrase. We’ve already surpassed that. Mobile is already ubiquitous in our lives.

Mobile is eating our free time

Rand Fishkin of Moz shared this graphic from the annual Mary Meeker report with this tweet: “Mobile isn’t killing desktop, its killing our free time“.

Mobile is killing our free time. Potential for cross platform user experience is growing

Mobile is killing our free time via @randfishkin

If you look at the blue bar which represents desktop time, its been roughly constant over the past 7 years. We’re still using desktop / laptop at the same rate. In 2015 it was 2.4 hours per day. It might be higher or lower depending on your profession.

What has been increasing is mobile time from 2.7 hours in 2008 to 5.6 hours in 2015. Its doubled. We’re actually eating more of our own time on devices then replacing desktop/laptop time. There’s also no doubt that “other connected devices” will also grow over time with the advent of Apple watch/smart watches / Apple TV/ and internet of things.

Benedict Evans, a venture capitalist from A16z also had this excellent podcast on “The year mobile dominated tech“.

Cross platform

A lot of businesses are thinking multi-platform (also known as cross-platform). We need to be on web, we need an iOS and Android app, etc… If a user is using one platform (web), they can talk to another user on another platform (mobile). Cross platform is where the puck is moving to (to quote Wayne Gretzky). Consumers & businesses are using more mobile in their daily lives. But the thinking misses what is unique about each of these mediums.

Higher session frequency & shorter session lengths

Firstly, they have different screen resolutions. That is an important consideration when building an app. What really matters is how we use these devices. When we use our mobile phone, we use it more frequently. We may look at a few times in an hour / 30 times a day. Hence, the session frequency is higher.

In addition, mobile session length is shorter. We will spend an hour or three in front of our desktop/laptop computer. But for mobile, its most likely a 5 minute session or shorter. For example, she* might login to instagram to check new photos from her friends whilst waiting at the bus stop. She receives a Whatsapp notification from a group chat. She briefly checks her work email to see if there’s been a response from her boss.

If you think about a smart watch ala the Apple Watch. Session length is even shorter. It might be 3 seconds. But the frequency could be 100-200 times a day.

There’s a good podcast by Phil Libin, ex CEO & co-founder of Evernote on this topic here.

Cross platform user experience

Where I believe the puck is really moving to in 2016 is a connected cross platform user experience. We don’t use devices in isolation of each other. We transition between devices. Its where apps and services are moving to because they are now available cross platform. But the experience hasn’t necessarily caught up yet.

The evolution has been this:

  1. Online/desktop presence: Website / web app / desktop apps
  2. Mobile: Mobile app
  3. Available cross platform: iOS, Android, Windows, other tablet apps
  4. Cohesive cross platform experience: Across web + mobile + smart devices

We don’t decide to use the web or mobile device. We use the web AND a mobile device.

We need to consider how to create a connected experience across devices. When I think about the web, its another UI. Its just another interface. How can I create an awesome cross platform user experience?

Here are some great examples for what I’ve seen so far.

I look at how I use Youtube to watch videos. I might start watching a video on my laptop in my bedroom. I realise that the video is 40mins long. So I’ll save the video to a playlist as I’ll be more comfortable watching it in my living room on my big tv. Its two clicks to save and select the watch later playlist. Then I’ll move two metres and be in my living room. I’ll turn on the TV which is connected to the  Apple TV. I’ll select the YouTube app on Apple TV. Go to my playlist, select the video and continue watching it. It will ask would you like to “resume” or “start at the beginning?”. Typically, I’ll choose “resume” and will be where I left off.

Its the same with Netflix. I can choose the video I was watching and it will resume from the point from the other device I was using. This is not limited to video.

When I use Slack and transition between desktop app and mobile app, it will remember the point where I last read. It won’t show me content that I’ve already read.

When I play a game on iPhone or Apple TV, it uses Game Center to recognise my points and game profile to create a connected experience.

I might save a link using Pocket on Chrome browser to read later. Then open Pocket app whilst I’m in transit. Read the article I saved.

The evolution cycles have been:
web –> mobile –> cross-platform –> mobile first –> connected user experience

We need to think about how to add cohesiveness between devices.

All together now

But its not just how to add that cohesive layer from device to device. We also can use devices together. For example, I might be writing some text in Google docs on my laptop via the web. If I want to do a calculation, I’ll whip out my mobile phone and use the calculator and enter the total into the google doc. As an aside: I went to school in the 90’s – I prefer having a physical calculator 🙂 The form factor might have changed, but I’m using my phone as a calculator.

Alternatively, I’m watching a movie on Netflix. If I have a question about the movie, i’ll use my iPhone to look it up whilst the movie is playing. I might go to Wikipedia or IMDB. So it might not necessarily be for the same service, but for different services which augment each other e.g. using IMDB app to look up movie information based on a Netflix movie.

We can also use devices together for the same service. On WeChat, the messaging service, I can login to the desktop or web app using the mobile app. How I login is by scanning a QR code on the desktop app using the WeChat mobile app. Its connecting both devices using the phone’s camera to scan the QR code and the fact that I’ve logged into the app already as a form of authentication. Its using the devices together. More info about it here.

I also noticed recently you can do this in WhatsApp as well. Importantly, both services allow you to seamlessly transition between devices. The service is sync’d across mobile and web. WeChat desktop app messages need to be persistent across both device & desktop app to enable an even better experience. I’ll typically switch to the web/desktop where I want to write longer or more frequently as I can use my laptop keyboard.

Zova, the exercise app allows you to connect your smartwatch (Apple Watch) to the Apple TV app. This gives you the ability to view your heart rate monitored via the Apple watch on the tv screen when doing a workout. There’s more about it here.

Cross platform user experience on Zova

Cross platform user experience on Zova

Cross platform user experience on Zova

Cross platform user experience on Zova

This has also had implications for advertisers who have worked out how to target you cross platform too. You can’t escape them!

Cross platform usage is different

When I use my desktop I’m doing different things to mobile. I’m writing a blog post, designing a graphic on Canva, creating a wireframe, creating a podcast on Garage Band. Its where something may require more thought and a deeper level of activity. Desktop/laptop is better suited to different things then mobile. Mobile might be more suitable for checking updates or using a native function quickly such as taking a photo.

If you think about the Evernote app, you might use the web app or desktop app to write a draft for an email or an essay. On mobile, I need to quickly jot down my thoughts in a few bullet points whilst on the train so I don’t lose it. So the use case is different for each medium. I might access different functions in the same service such as the camera or use my GPS location on mobile. On my smart watch, I only want to see brief notifications of updates.

Final thoughts

The proliferation of devices requires us to think beyond having our service as simply being available cross platform. We need to think about how it benefits the user being on multiple platforms.

1. How can we tie these user experiences together as we flow from one device to another?

I might check out a pair of glasses on Warby Parker mobile website whilst I’m out at lunch. But I’ll prefer to spend more time on the web when I’m back at my desk and feel more comfortable transacting when I’m at my desktop. So I can have a connected experience and find the pair of glasses that I really liked and buy them later when I go back to my desktop.

You need to think about the hand off point, such as saving the state of the game or video. Having a user account that can be accessed across devices.

2. How can we use devices together to enhance a service or a different service?

The service must still be able to be used as a single platform utility. But if I have a secondary device, how can I interact with the first platform to make an even more awesome experience?

Perhaps its controlling my Chromecast on my tv using my mobile to watch videos. Or I can control my music playlist on tv/stereo using the spotify app on my phone.

3. API’s become even more important in a cross platform experience.

Being able to access data and services on any platform requires API’s. We need to expose that information via API’s. In a cross platform world, API’s become even more important. Listen to my podcast about it here.

I’m out like 2015,
Matt Ho


*She as the user example. I’ve taken the idea from Ben Horowitz for using females rather than using male dominated examples.

3 thoughts on “Cross platform user experience – creating a connected experience

  1. Terry Hilsberg says:

    Matt, Excellent post. One important “use case” which you do not mention is the rise of mobile whilst using public or semi-public transport, versus personally driving a car and the impact this will have upon urban modes of transport and form. Three years ago, getting around Sydney, I would drive a car. I gave this up completely a year ago, as it is dead time, compared with using the same time to work (using my now favorite Huawei M2 phablet). Terry

    • Thanks Terry glad you like it! Thats the same reason I prefer getting the train. Aside from finding parking and the stress of driving around the city, it also gives me time to use my phone or my kindle to read an ebook. How’s the Huawei phablet btw?

  2. Pingback: inspiredworlds - Reflections on 2016 & notes to self for 2017 - inspiredworlds

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