When looking at user behavior on mobile devices, it can be simplified into an equation. On one side is the number of mobile applications available, and on the other side is the amount of time a user has. On the number of apps side of the equation, the number continues to grow on a daily basis, seemingly exponentially. On the amount of time a user has side of the equation, the number is relatively fixed and under constant downward pressure. This imbalance led to an astute observation by Waze CEO Noam Bardin when he said, in reference to how the future of mobile will play out, “the next five years will be about fighting for time with users.”

It means that developing for mobile is only an entry point for success on mobile these days. The bigger challenge is figuring out how to engage users so they will spend their most valuable commodity, their time, with you. In other words, how do you create user engagement on a mobile device?

#1: Understand why consumers would want to access your mobile presence
Taking your desktop website and stuffing it into a mobile form factor is NOT the right answer. Neither is building your mobile presence around what people do on your desktop site. Mobile is a completely different beast, and context is king. Think like your target user(s), label a few cases, and identify under what conditions, or context, a user would access your mobile presence.

#2: Identify the goals consumers want to accomplish
Once you’ve determined the conditions, the next step is to identify what they want to do. The goals can range from extremely big, like storing information about everything in the case of Evernote, to small tasks-oriented items, like finding directions and store hours in the case of a retail store. In either case, you want to make sure your users can accomplish their primary goal(s) as quickly as possible. Mobile users are looking to complete targeted tasks, which is very different from desktop users who are more likely to engage in research related, time consuming activities.

#3: Determine how users will find your mobile presence
Will users learn about your presence through word-of-mouth,online blogs and websites, social media, Google searches, voice-based searches such as Siri and Google Now, or offline print media and ads? While you may not care, it will have a huge impact on the type of mobile presence you decide to create. For example, if you expect the majority of your traffic to come from Google searches, an easy to navigate and use mobile website should be your top priority (although I would content that a well functioning mobile website should be at the top of everyone’s list, but I digress).

#4: Select a mobile presence that fits with what your users expect
For example, if I’m developing a game for mobile, users expect that it will be a native app. If I intend to use your application multiple times a day or week, I would prefer the convenience of an app. If I only need to use your presence occasionally, or just once, than I just need a usable, well-designed mobile website.

#5: Create some “magic” through the user experience
Of all these points, this one is the most difficult. The best apps create a complete user experience that embodies not only mobile but also your desktop, social media, and offline entities. They include mobile as part of their overall user experience instead of treating it as a completely separate object. Unfortunately, there aren’t any hard rules or formulas that you can apply to create a magical user experience. You have to look at your brand and your users (and/or customers), apply some creativity, and determine the design and features that will make people want to engage with your mobile presence.


In the early days of mobile, creating a mobile website or native app was enough to succeed. It isn’t anymore. The mobile space has become too crowded. You need a strategy that determines how you will engage the user and win the on-going battle that is the competition for their time.