Developing for mobile - challenges of one app, two operating systems and desire for speedNewsBy Viewpoints | June 1, 2012Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a guest article by Justin Cooke, CEO of UK-based digital agency Fortune Cookie.Is there a definitive way to develop mobile services for travel brands? Probably not as yet, but there are now some techniques to use which help address some of the challenges.This is a run-through of what we learned when developing a mobile application for National Rail Enquiries, the main source of rail travel information in Britain with 16 million customers nationwide and one of the busiest travel websites with more than 600,000 visitors per day.Last year it saw traffic to the NRE site from mobile devices rise by 129%, so having worked with them to transform nationalrail.co.uk into a usable and effective online travel destination, we knew it was time to do the same for mobile.The NRE app, now almost a month old, shot to the top of app stores for free travel apps with more than 200,000 downloads in its first three weeks.The vision was for the mobile service to act as the customer’s complete travel companion, engaging them throughout the journey planning stage as well as other key points in their journey.Features and Functionality:access real-time train progress information, rather than being timetable driven, allowing passengers to be alerted to any disruptions and re-plan their journey immediatelypersonalise the app by setting their home and work stationsuse real-time journey information and live departure boardsmonitor the live progress of each train service via Live Train and ‘pin’ a train to track it as it travels to its destinationuse geo-location via ‘Get Me Home’ to bring up the closet train stationsenable push notifications to alert them of disruptions before they disrupt their day.How we did it:By distilling down the needs of rail passengers via a series of workshops and brainstorm sessions with National Rail Enquiries we worked out how an app of this kind would be used and consumed.We then built a prototype of the app in a Native iOS environment to test and validate our assumption.A hybrid project process was adopted - a cross between agile and waterfall development, which means a constant test and learn approach with planned and regular client input.We focused on delivering early versions of the app to test functionality as soon as it was added. NRE then tested and approved the feature increasing the speed and efficiency of delivery.Our creative and user experience teams worked in collaboration with our mobile development tech team – far more than traditionally needed. The complexity of the project meant we could not allow the different disciplines to make decisions without having the underlying technical expertise to inform them.The technology and data integration behind the app was so complex that it determined the creative and user experience at every stage of development.The challenges1. One app, two operating systemsBecause the majority of visitors were accessing the NRE website via Android and iPhone mobiles we decided to prioritise the development of the app for these two operating systems in the first release.The key challenge was overcoming the issues in designing one app for the two different mobile operating systems – iOS for iPhone and Android, without upsetting either.The app was carefully designed to strike the right balance between delivering the NRE branding without losing the integrity of the differing iOS and Android user interfaces.We needed both apps to share all the same functionality, structure and logic, without restricting too many concessions for very strong platform-specific conventions.2. SpeedThe speed of the app was one of our concerns.Travellers are using this app on the move, they want a fast service that alerts them to any disruptions immediately and helps them re-plan their journey with speed and ease. This meant fast load times and up-to-the minute information and notifications were paramount.The challenge was to create a fast performing app whilst still serving up the level of detailed and comprehensive functionality needed. Overcoming this barrier meant rounds and rounds of iterations until we were fully satisfied with its performance.One of NRE’s key performance indicators for the app is of course the number of downloads it achieves.With a target of one million downloads within 12 months, and achieving as many as 200,000 in just it’s first three weeks, that target is on its way to being smashed, and with the stream of future releases we’re likely to encourage more and more users as time goes on. NB: This is a guest article by Justin Cooke, CEO of UK-based digital agency Fortune Cookie.