Posted by:Nithin Rao May 30th, 2014

This post is part of a series (read earlier posts here) on building forms in mobile apps.

Hi there! For today’s post, I have picked some random things that crossed my mind the other day and which I felt were worth sharing as tips for building forms in mobile apps. Let’s take a look:

Using mobile touch gestures for advanced-level kind of inputs:

When you want users to give input in the form of fine-stepped increments or decrements and also want to show them instantly the result of their actions, you have to carefully choose yourinput widgets. Like we did a financial planning app where users had to choose levels of various parameters such as annuity income, target growth etc. and simultaneously see an income chart varying as per the given inputs. The aim was that users should be shown how slight variations in input could affect their financial outcomes. There would have been no point providing a text field for input here. Users wouldn’t be able to see a continuous variation in output as they moderated the input. What we eventually did was have a set of controls that performed increment and decrement operations on single and double tap respectively. Each of these incremented or decreased the input by a certain value. This custom console served the purpose well and was a good example of how we can combine the usage of touch gestures and form elements to tailor a form to our needs.

Screen sliding:

One really cool feature of iOS7 is the ability to move to previous screens not just with the Back button to the top left but also by doing a leftward swipe of the current screen. Almost feels like a set of pages laid one on top of the other and you move one aside to see the one beneath! Beautiful concept and makes a lot of sense for hierarchical forms – when you have to navigate through a hierarchy of options to drill down to a page where you can give your input. A simple left swipe should take the user one level higher. See it in the iPhone > Settings section. Very convenient, is it not?!

And do leave your top-left-back-buttons as they are…not everyone may be familiar with the left swipe that is pretty new in the game.

Provide feedback for inputs:

It always helps if you can make the user feel a sense of accomplishment after finishing up an action. So whether it is showing a selected item flying into a ‘cart’ in an m-commerce app or changing the color of a field to indicate a match has been found within the records in the database, feedback always ensures a sense of completeness and the user knows they’ve made progress. Talking of progress, unlike web apps that can show a loading indicator by default, native apps must be programmed to have explicit progress indicators to let the user know that their input is being submitted or processed. A progress indicator can be a visual accompanied by a short phrase such as ‘Please wait..’ or ‘Loading..’.

Offline usage:

Allow users to fill forms even if they are offline. If you have multiple forms in your mobile app and they happen to be lengthy or complex or need the user to gather a lot of information before filling it, you must definitely make use of this mobile device feature, and save the users forms in a local on-device database. Users can then work on several such forms even if they are offline and submit as and when they get connected. You can also go a step further and have a set of ‘cached’ forms stored on the app –  forms that were submitted by the user but failed submission due to network issues. Upon network detection by the device, these forms should automatically get submitted.  Do keep in mind that a lot of field validation and business rule checks can be performed offline as well so you can make sure the user’s form is well-screened even if there is no network and then just auto-submit the form once the network is available.

Depending on the kind of business problem you are trying to solve and the extent of functionality you wish to give your users, you would have to pick and choose which of the features described so far, would work best for your app. As they say, less is more. So avoid putting too many goodies into your app. Keep it simple and have it do a few things – but make sure they are done really well.

We shall sync back in the next post. Meanwhile, let us know of any unique business scenarios or problems you have encountered while building forms for your mobile app.

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