Workflows

One of the more common complaints I hear about trying to use the phone is that it’s slow. These people don’t necessarily mean processor speed, or refresh speed, or anything related to hardware specs per se, for the most part. I think a lot of people feel that the modern cell phone is useful but slow because the workflow is tedious.

Let’s take the example of editing a Word Document hosted on your computer but saved through Dropbox. Without having to do anything special, it is synced to your local computer. Let’s walk through the two workflows of editing a Word Document. Computer first – and let’s use Windows 10 as an example:

  • Mouse over to your Windows Icon start menu button.
  • Click “File Explorer”
  • Click “Dropbox” and find the file in question
  • Double click the file.
  • Edit the file
  • Save or Save-As if you want to save a new version for revision control instead.

On smart phones, it’s a bit more annoying:

  • Click on the Dropbox icon to launch Dropbox and wait a moment.
  • Find the file.
  • Tap the file and wait for it to download, unless you’ve already selected it to be stored locally.
  • Click the button to edit it.
  • Select Word to open it (there’s no option to remember)
  • Wait for Word to download the file (despite the fact that it might be local to Dropbox) and open the document inside of Word
  • Technically you can edit directly at this point, but Word encourages you to select the button to put it into mobile friendly mode – and they should, because it’s a much easier mode to edit in. The problem being that is another step, and it lacks pagination and pagecount information which can be useful. It’s also got quirks where the cursor goes below the navigation bar at the bottom in landscape mode.
  • At this point you don’t have many options, because auto-save is enabled. Normally I’d say this is a great thing, but if you need to do revision control you don’t really have an option to “save-as”. You’re going to be saving over the original document, unless you took an initial step to make a copy.

I fully realize there are ways around some of this, but ironically, this is one of the best flows that I’ve found. The Dropbox/Word integration workflow is straightforward, the functionality is largely there, and despite the form factor, you can do what you want. I’d even say the functionality nearly mirrors the laptop/desktop environment. But the differences in workflow are substantially different even in this relatively good use case. It’s worthy of noting that most workflows are not nearly this nice either, which I’ll talk about in depth later.

As smartphone app developers think through the design, they should do their best to force the fewest clicks possible, and make the design as intuitive and easy to control as possible, because anything other than that is a time-waster and discourages use. If people aren’t going to use the app, the developers have wasted a lot of time building it – they might as well do it correctly, right?

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Robert Hansen

Robert is an executive with a smart phone. Trying to tackle the big meaty problem of mobility, in the modern world where content and creativity are requirements of a job well done.