Top Mobile Apps for Summer Travel

by Phil McGuinness

At Key Lime Interactive, we’ve provided competitive research analysis in the Auto Insurance and Banking Industry mobile app offerings for years. Now, on the heels of TripAdvisor reporting a milestone of 100 million iPhone and Android app downloads, we decided to take a quick peek at four top travel booking apps to see how they compare. We selected four brands and evaluated the Android app flight finding and booking process to find out which have the best usability, ranking them not only on number of features, but execution.

Our Methodology
The apps were awarded points or scored based on two criteria

  1. The total number of available capabilities to users
  2. The successful execution of each

In review, each app was credited for an integrated capability, such as sorting, filtering, alerts, or the ability to save flight information.   After this we looked at the execution of each feature to provide more nuance to the rankings, such as the number of sorting/filtering options provided or the flexibility of alert settings for apps that had flight alerts. The final positioning of each app in our ranking is based on a combination of those two measurements.

NUMBER 4: Expedia

Expedia is far and above the best looking app of the this group, from the landing screen that scrolls hotel and flight   destinations via colorful pictures, to the search results loading screen that mimics the view out your airplane window. The app is also extremely quick and responsive, allowing both departing and return flights to be selected without any extended load time. However, there is not much that stands out in this app beyond those features. The flight search has only a few    basic options. The results page and booking engine are relatively sparse, with only four sorting options available for results.  Although the aesthetics are exceptional, the lack of functionality in Expedia’s app results in a lower ranking in comparison  to the other apps we reviewed.

NUMBER 3: Priceline

Priceline, which acquired Kayak in June 2013, ranked just ahead of Expedia in the find flight and booking analysis. The  app has a strong branding message. William Shatner and Kaley Cuoco are available in the lower left hand corner to  chauffeur you through a flight search. During the search process, Priceline saves recent airport searches in a list, which  rewards the user for repeated uses of the app. The results page also provides six different sorting options, from Number of  Stops to Airline, which is great for users who want to avoid specific airlines or too many layovers. While the remainder of  the experience is solid, Priceline lacks to the bells and whistles of some of the apps in this competitor set.

NUMBER 2: TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor’s strengths are apparent from the minute you land on the results page, where sorting and filtering options are available. This allows users to select time of day for departure or arrival, the number of stops, or to view specific airlines. Additionally, users can request alerts for flight prices from within the app, and the bottom bar links to comparison rates from other providers making it easier for bargain hunters to find the best price. Finally, users who want to save their information for later can e-mail their itinerary after selecting flights – a very convenient feature for frequent travelers who need to keep their itinerary close at hand.

AND THE WINNER IS… Kayak

 Kayak’s no-frills interface belies a wealth of functionality, and ranks first primarily due to stronger execution of features  that  can be found in the TripAdvisor app. Kayak has the most robust sorting and filtering menus available, as well as  extensive options for setting alerts. The app is also the only one we evaluated that allowed multi-city flight searches.  Anyone thinking of hopping around Europe this summer will appreciate this feature. During the flight search, the  Kayak app allows users to add any nearby airports to their search, truly a plus when traveling to or from areas with  multiple airports that may have better fares. The quality of Kayak’s many features make it best in class for flight finding  and booking.

 We hope you found this ranking helpful. Key Lime Interactive offers expanded custom competitive research. If you’d like  more information, please contact KLI  here.

HTML5 or Native OS: Which is Right for Your Business?

by Phil McGuinness
A hot topic right now in mobile user experience is the debate between providing an HTML5 web app versus a more traditional Native OS app. Simply put, HTML5 is a method of programming a mobile website to behave like an app (think m.youtube.com) which can be accessed through any modern tablet or smartphone browser. Conversely, apps written for a Native OS are  developed to run directly on Android or iOS smartphones (they are designed for each native platform), and must be downloaded through the GooglePlay Store or Apple App Store. Both approaches are a great way to provide web content to smartphone and tablet users, and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Which of these approaches is right for your business? At Key Lime Interactive, we are exploring this question in depth, and have key information to help you make the right decision.
From a development standpoint, HTML5 is the clear winner in both cost and flexibility. If your business has a website, it’s a given that you already have programmers on hand who can write HTML5 code.  In addition, your programmers will only have to program the basic code once.  Of course, during QA testing some minor edits will need to be made in order to support different browsers and browser versions in the marketplace such as Chrome, Safari, Explorer and more. It’s also important to note that since your code lives on the web rather than on a user’s device, you can make changes on the fly without having to roll out a new application update via an App Store update every time you make a change.
If you decide to make a Native OS app, you will need to hire  a team  who know the specific language for each operating system, or a jack-of-all-trades programmer who knows all of the relevant languages. These programming skills are much less common, and therefore, can be more expensive, than HTML5-only developers.  In order to provide a robust and compelling experience for each OS, you’ll need someone who understands the nuances of each platform. This requires a developer who can write for each operating system, and that’s no small task. If you decide to go the path of a a Native OS app then you’re developing for both Android and iOS and that means you’re now doubling every step of the cycle, including programming, testing/QA, and maintaining the code. When it comes time to update your apps, you’ll also need to release an update two versions via the GooglePlay Store or the Apple App Store.Publishing via either store requires approval before your app can be made available for download.
So why use the Native OS app approach at all you might ask? It sounds expensive AND time consuming. We would submit that developing for a Native OS platform is the right choice.  This approach excels at something that we at KLI hold near and dear to our hearts: you guessed it, user experience! Currently, an HTML5 mobile site compete to a Native OS app in look, feel, functionality, and overall speed. Of course, Android and iOS platforms have quirks which make for a unique user experience on each device but the robust and rich UX is worth the price of admission. See our previous article for a detailed discussion about  how Android users can be alienated by seemingly insignificant design choices. When building an HTML5 web app to be standardized across all devices, you lose the custom feel ofa Native OS app.
The functionality advantage for Native OS apps comes partially from a better support system – not only from Apple and Google – but from the online community of app programmers – and also from the apps being installed directly on the device.  This allows easy access to smartphone features such as the camera, calendar, or contacts. HTML5 web apps are starting to add these functionalities as programmers begin to develop clever new approaches, but equivalency is a long way off at this point in time. Finally, it is well known throughout the industry that the HTML5 web apps react significantly slower than Native OS apps in both UI and load speed. These factors combine to create a smoother, faster, and more intuitive user experience for a Native OS app.
The other main areas differences  between these two approaches relate to  security, monetization, and accessibility, which will vary in importance can be depending on what you want from your app. Native OS apps have better security since the code and URL strings are not accessible like they are in an HTML5 web app. If you happen to want your app to be accessible online, you’ll need to stick with Native OS.  To rely on an existing app store for monetization, you’ll need to either build a Native OS app, or use a program like PhoneGap to “wrap” your HTML5 web app to make it appear as an app in the app store that users can download, although it only behaves as a link to the web app itself.  Of course, selling your app through an app store means giving away a cut of the profit to the owner of that store/ HTML5 web apps allows you to create your own monetization strategy and avoid the App Store fees.
In conclusion, it takes careful consideration of your business, and knowledge of each approach to make the right decision for you. Do you need a less expensive, low-frills, dynamic experience? If so, an HTML5 web app would be the best approach for you. However, if your major concerns are usability, performance, and security, and you have a little room in your development budget, then a  Native OS approach is the way to go.  In our opinion, until HTML5 can catch up to the user experience provided by Native OS apps, enterprise companies will almost always want to represent themselves with Native OS apps for the enhanced usability and unparaelleled user experience. In the coming months, Key Lime Interactive will be conducting a study to measure the current user experience of HTML5 web apps, so stay tuned for more detailed information in a future newsletter.

 

8 Tips: Improve Design & Increase Mobile Commerce Conversion

Real users reveal trends. KLI takes note.

As top retailers strive to increase their mobile presence KLI continues to launch studies
of all shapes and sizes to explore mobile trends. In the process our researchers are
gaining intimate knowledge about the general expectations of today’s consumer and
the love/hate relationship they’re developing with their favorite retailers.
As they shop on their smartphone or tablet “consumers don’t want to pinch and drag
screens around and accidentally click unintended links. They don’t want to be
autocorrected or type in 16-digit credit card numbers” says Rebeca Lergier, Sr. User
Research Director at KLI. “They’re seeking simplicity; automatic detection, visual cues,
one-click checkouts… We’ve gotten to the point where we can see pain points a mile away.”
Considering that many retailers have yet to optimize for mobile but a majority plan to in
the next 24 months, we’ve identified the most common pain points and created a list to
improve mobile properties from their inception.


Consumer Testing in a Mobile World

Shopping, for me, has taken on a whole new form.
I’ve been browsing bridal registries at Pier 1 while waiting in the dentist office and purchasing new running shoes from Zappos while on the train.  Lately, I’ve even taken the opportunity to update my home grocery delivery list on my mobile phone while cooking dinner!  It’s been fantastic – more efficient shopping decisions supported by in-app reviews, free shipping offers and most importantly less time at the store…which translates to more time for other things.

Our clients are noticing this, too, because we’re seeing a drastic rise in the demand to put apps in front of prospective consumers before they launch.  Our retail clients want to exploit the interplay between store, online, and mobile channels in consumer outreach and they want to do it well.   With the holidays only being a short 5 months away and the holiday shopping season ramping up in a mere 2, retailers are expanding their mobile budgets and adjusting their second half of the year marketing plans to ensure they can meet the needs of users like me who would just rather not head to the store.

What kind of mobile testing is happening?
Feature priorities are broad and users’ expectations are demanding.  The trends in mobile are changing rapidly. Clients cannot simply take their traditional site and miniaturize it to fit on the screen of your smart phone or they’ll lag behind their competitors.

Let’s consider everything that a consumer can do from the palm of their hand these days:  text-to-list to add oneself to marketing lists, access location based deals, get feedback from their social networks about purchasing decisions, accurately compare pricing between e-retailers and local retail stores and this list goes on and on.  Consumers seek instant gratification and retailers have new avenues for branding opportunities to meet that instant search protocol that is becoming standard.

Our clients get it and they have expressed the need to get their offering right the first time.  (…before the app store makes them go through a lengthy resubmission process.)

Although there are the occasions where a template app can be used to showcase the clients’ offering, we’re finding that this is increasingly rare in the retail segment.   Clients are customizing and they’re considering their audience as a critical component to developing a successful solution.

What are we doing to help?
KLI specializes in primary research – we work to evaluate user behavior, blend our observations and user feedback with our expertise and deliver actionable recommendations to make things intuitive to the target audience.  So, as mobile expands, we need to continue to be forward-thinking as we gather data.

In an effort to help our clients evaluate user behavior across form factors and operating systems as they develop this critical mobile presence, we’ve found a few tools that help us move from the lab and into the wild.

  • The Spy Cam. In a nutshell, this is a pair of glasses with a small video camera mounted in the center between the two eyes – they look and feel like a geeky pair of sunglasses.
    When we’re using it:
    Several clients have the need to understand the interplay between their mobile shopping app and the physical store shelf.  In scenarios where the app offers reviews, or additional product information or helps comparative shop, users aren’t neglecting this tool.  So, we’ve used “the spy cam” to monitor this behavior without having to stand two feet away from them as they navigate a store aisle.  They’re more comfortable and we get more information to make informed generalizations about their behavior.
  • Mirrored Screen.  Depending on the smart phone, there is an HDMI out cable that can be used to mirror the screen on a PC.   We use this, combined with screen recording software to capture the navigation path of the user.
    When we’re using it:
    Sometimes the setting is such that we don’t want to observe first hand what’s going on because we may interfere with the users’ most natural behavior.  In this scenario we send the mirrored screen to a more comfortable viewing location so that we can see the navigation path as the user executes a task, explores freely, etc.   In many cases, we stream this mirrored screen to the client in tandem with our notes so that they can check-in freely as they wish to observe the data collection process.  Bringing our clients on board during data collection makes them feel like they’re more involved and increases the integrity of our reporting.
  • Diary Studies. We’ve setup easy to access blogs like tumblr, etc. for users to send screenshots, audio clips, quotes, thoughts, and more as they log their usage behavior.
    When we’re using it:
    In some scenarios we need data testing over time.  Take the airline industry study we did for example… from booking, to checking in, to changing seats, to boarding, the app is accessed at various time points.  It’s an effective delivery method for us to encourage users to log their experience at various time points so the entire service can be properly evaluated.

We’re also using mobile eyetracking solutions, split screen monitors to synchronize concurrent activities, in-lab mobile sleds and camera systems, on-screen simulators, and more depending on the research questions on hand.

To learn more about the presentation from the Big (D)esign 2011 conference in Dallas reach out to us at sales@keylimeinteractive.com