Asian mobile apps need better usability

Developers in region hoping to bring apps to global audience should work on developing cleaner and more intuitive user interfaces, says Nokia exec.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

Asian developers eyeing the global mobile apps market should work on tweaking their user interfaces (UI) to suit global tastes, according to a Nokia top executive.

Purnima Kochikar, vice president of Forum Nokia and Nokia's developer communities, told ZDNet Asia in an interview that one of the more common requests the company receives from Asian developers is help with application usability.

Kochikar explained that a good proportion of Asian developers have built their coding experience from developing backend systems, traditionally paying less attention to the frontend components.

She noted that apps made by and for Asian users tend to have busier UIs, filled with moving text, graphics and multiple colors. Such interfaces, she said, tend to confuse Western users and are not aesthetically pleasing.

Navigation is less intuitive within a busy interface, she added.

"People have to understand global sensitivities" in order to go global, Kochikar advised.

She hinted toward the possibility of Nokia setting up "usability labs" in Asian countries to teach programmers UI design and navigation principles, in hopes of helping developers reach a more global audience.

Speaking at a press event held last week in Helsinki, Finland, she said the handset maker would be working on raising the visibility of apps and developers on its mobile app store, Ovi Store. It also hopes to encourage more Symbian developers to join the app store gold rush.

Understanding local market
Apart from understanding global demands, Kochikar also emphasized the need for developers to understand users closer to home in order to differentiate their apps.

This means the concept of "one size fits all", seen in many popular app stores, may not "fit" every market, she said. For example, developers need to target different markets with different price points and billing structures, by providing payment alternatives to markets where credit cards are not commonplace, she explained.

Local consumption patterns will also indicate how apps can be monetized more effectively. Games consumers in China, for instance, are used to getting games for free but are accustomed to paying for virtual goods within games. Consumers in other markets may be less willing to pay for games or virtual goods, but are more tolerant to ad placement, she said.

Understanding these varying factors will help developers cater to their target markets more effectively, while working out a relevant revenue plan, Kochikar said.

Developers could also spend more time tying up with other businesses. She pointed to the example of fashion retailer FJ Benjamin's recent tie up with Nokia in Malaysia and Singapore, to carry a limited edition phone and widget module. This partnership opened the opportunity for an exclusive app to be carried on the phone, demonstrating another route to market for an enterprising developer, she said.

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