Posted by:Nithin Rao May 15th, 2014

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

The challenges brought about by the small-sized screen of the mobile device coupled with the interesting touch gestures it supports, has prompted designers to unleash their creativity and come up with various interesting screen widgets and form controls to be used in conjunction with one’s fingers to accomplish a task. We see how we can employ the same for forms in mobile apps.

Let us first start with the very simple (or so we thought!) single left click on the desktop (using the mouse) that translated to the single tap on the mobile screen. Well, they are the same and nothing has really changed with the single click evolving to a single tap, right? Wrong!

Single click actions on the desktop and single taps on the mobile screen – no, they are not really the same if you start thinking about it from a discerning UX perspective! The single click on a desktop screen actually means clasping the mouse, moving the cursor to the point of click and then the click, so that’s actually 3 steps. On the mobile however, it is just one tap of the finger. This little truth is behind the success of many applications that have successfully jumped onto the mobile bandwagon.

Studies show that the adoption of the Facebook mobile app was rapid and has overtaken the desktop-only set of users. I have experienced it myself. Ever since I got the Facebook app on my smartphone, the frequency of my desktop logins drastically went down and now it’s almost never!  And I never feel the necessity for a desktop session because Facebook Mobile just lets me do a lot of things with so much ease!  Not that it’s the best app ever made (it does have its share of could-have-been-better features), but for the kind of populist app that it is, it makes sure that the most frequent actions a user takes – whether it is uploading pictures, ‘liking’ a post or sharing one – are all smooth and quick. People with the secret wish to have a 100 ‘likes’ are now suddenly finding their dreams come true – LOL ! It is so easy to ‘like’ something on FB on your mobile – you don’t mind giving your friends dozens of them ;) Lazy-roll the screen with one finger, look at a pic and almost without moving a muscle, just feather touch the Like button and it’s done!

What we can learn from this is how to easily capture user reviews, ratings or opinions on a product using the powerful single tap on the mobile screen.  When you showcase a product on a catalog app or a destination on a travel app, allow users to give their opinion with just having to tap on one of many options (e.g. love it, hate it, it’s kinda okay, don’t really care). Or mark one of the 5 stars to give a quick rating.  Get rid of those lengthy and boring feedback forms. Most people would rather do a single tap to state their opinion than ever bothering to write it. Single-clicks-using-mouse action items on the web have translated to super-hit single taps on the mobile screen and when trying to gather quick info or feedback from users, we should knowingly harness the power of the same.

Wherever possible in your form, try to convert text inputs into simple touch gesture based actions.  Let’s say you want the user to define a range with a start value and an end value. No two text boxes please! Simply give them a slider placed on a range of values and let them move it horizontally with the finger to define the range. Make your app sensitive enough to display the value at which the slider starts and stops.

There is also the scrubber widget one can use to time-track a portion of a time-based entity. Think of an  audio or video editing app that lets users stitch together and mix sounds and recordings. Or maybe change the tempo and pitch of them. Such apps are hugely popular with smartphone users because they can be used while on-the-go, with all necessary raw material (photos, videos, music files) readily available on the phone itself! This kind of an app would most likely need the user to pick (along with other preferences such as background tracks, special effects, tempo value etc) a certain point or time frame in the recording. A scrubber would help the user know at what point the recording needs to be stopped or trimmed or merged with another track. A simple finger drag should be enough to position the scrubber to the desired point.

You can also use scrubbers to indicate the passage of time if you have a time limit for the filling up of your form. Did this ring a bell about examinations going the mobile way??!!

What’s your take? I would to hear your thoughts!

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