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Comparing Wireless Applications That Support the Mobile Persona

The role of the server is critical as the true engine that unifies all wireless applications. Many developers first think that their wireless device applications need some special communications server they have to learn to program. It's not like that at all. Wireless applications are fielded from the same web server that PC web browsers read from. All content originates from the Internet. A web phone microbrowser, a pager messaging application, a handheld form, even a voice portal dialogue fetches Internet web content from a web server. It's the server that supplies the content stream to wireless applications. Most of the development for the web phone page design is actually done on the web server. When you need to serve a lot of traffic, you need to scale your server up. Middleware is software that translates between two software systems, tying together not only servers and devices, and improves the underlying network service infrastructure.

Experienced engineers and new wireless teams often make the mistake of thinking that they can simply convert original web forms pages to web phone usable pages. This is technically easy to do and awful to see. Using conversion tools, developers zip through a web site and show their manager that the project is done in record time. Unless you pay wireless end users to use this product, however, they probably won't. You have to rethink their mobility needs for that content and consider how to save them time with a new mobile design.

Defining your mobile audience is critical. Clearly identify a primary user and their primary device. As we work in product teams, concentrating on deadlines and flowcharts and building wireless applications with new technology, it's easy to lose site of the end customer. Wireless engineering teams can easily forget for whom they're making products. Yet with simple techniques, they have the ability to liberate the user. A usability specialist or an interaction designer can develop a profile of the end user to help a wireless team recognize individual mobile user requirements.

There's some confusion about the identity of the mobile end user. In making wireless applications, the technology is new to you, everyone on the team, and the mobile audience. One of the causes for bewilderment is the different kinds of users with respect to the maturity of the technology. The early audiences know what they want to do; the later audience has to be shown what to do. As technology is adopted, you initially encounter audiences that are hobbyist; later they're business; and finally they're consumer. You write applications for the appropriate audience. One surefire technique that clarifies the audience and gives you an important development tool is building a persona. There are three basic steps to beginning the mobile application: developing a mobile persona and its goals, describing scenarios, and then creating storyboards. From these steps, engineers can build products.

A persona is a single concrete characterization of someone who uses an application. There can be two or three of them, but a project always needs one designated as the primary persona. The creation of the persona involves the identification of the typical personality, writing the background, a descriptive profile, actions that define the "presence" of the personality, a photograph or illustration of the person, and a typical "day in the life" focusing on action. Goals are objectives. Once goals are stated, a design team can help the end user achieve them by envisioning the tasks. It's part of the fun of the mobile design challenge. A scenario is a concise description of a persona, using technology components to achieve a goal. The scenario involves how the user handles the hardware, how the application is operated, and how the content is used. Storyboards can be drawn up based on scenarios to show the information design of the content. Two primary types of scenarios to consider are the daily use case and the necessary use case. The persona and the goals should be introduced absent of proposed technology or notions of technical tasks. Later in scenario writing, the persona is shown actively using wireless technology. Useful examples of persona development appear in Chapter 9 of Alan Cooper's book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum (Sams, 1999, ISBN 0-672-31649-8). His design firm, Cooper Interaction Design, makes a very strong practice of goal-oriented design.

My next article, "The Needs of the Wireless Internet User," is excerpted from Chapter 2 of my book Wireless Internet Applications and Architecture: Building Professional Wireless Applications Worldwide (Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN

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