Today, more people have mobile phones than have electricity or safe drinking water. In India, there are more cell phones than toilets! We all have access to incredible technology, and as designers and developers, we have the opportunity to use this pervasive technology in powerful ways that can change people's lives.
In fact, a single individual can now create an application that can literally change the lives of people across the globe. With that in mind, I’m going to highlight some examples of designers and developers using their craft to help improve the lives of people around the world in the hope that you will be encouraged to find ways to do the same with your own skills and talents.
Speech and Communication Assistance
Modern mobile phones have several features that make them ideally suited to assisting users with speech and communication. The combination of speakers, a microphone, and a touchscreen interface make communicating with these devices both intuitive and practical.
Grace: Grace is a picture exchange app developed specifically for people with autism to communicate their needs and thoughts independently. Users are able to build sentences and phrases from a list of pictures that they can then show to others. This mimics the analog picture exchange systems that many people with autism are already accustomed to using, but it improves upon that system in several ways. For example, users can easily add their own pictures and can carry a large number of pictures without having to lug around a bulky book.
GPS data is available on most devices these days, and most of us have experienced applications that provide directions from one location to another. If you want to find the best shawarma shop in town, whip out your favorite foodie app and a few taps later you’re on your way. While these apps are certainly useful, they aren’t exactly what you’d call “life-changing.” Some developers, however, are finding innovative ways to use location-based data to help their users locate more than just their next chicken sandwich.
Ariadne GPS: Named after the Greek goddess most commonly associated with labyrinths, the goal of Ariadne GPS is to assist users through the labyrinthine world around them. It has all of the normal bells and whistles you’d expect from a GPS app (location, surroundings, directions, etc), but what sets Ariadne apart is its accessibility. Ariadne makes extensive use of voice controls to allow users to control the app just by speaking. Allowing for this type of interaction opens the door for blind and partially sighted users to benefit from the location data the app provides. Users are able to explore the world around them while the app speaks to them about their location. It also includes a feature that lets users to add favorite locations and be notified as they approach them.
Mobile devices are by their nature, well … mobile. This capability allows for the delivery of technology to areas that even just a few years ago, would have been inaccessible. This becomes especially interesting in delivering high quality education experiences to remote and under-developed areas around the globe. The high fidelity of content delivery that modern devices grant creates not only a more exciting and engaging educational experience but often a more effective one as well.
Muscle System Pro III: This is a beautiful app that’s very well done. Important attributes, no doubt, but they're not enough to qualify an app as life changing. The way this lovely app is being used is what makes it so special. Muscle System Pro III delivers high quality 3D renderings of the musculoskeletal system that allows users to view any body part at any angle. In addition, it provides audible pronunciations and other learning tools, making it one of the top medical training apps available. Muscle System Pro III (along with Ariadne GPS) was featured in a video during the WWDC 2012 keynote that explained how the application was being used in a school program in Mumbai, India to teach young children about human anatomy. Many of the students in the class are behind educationally and do not speak English. Before using the application, mastery of the anatomy lessons was only at 13%. Since the teacher began using the application, mastery has jumped to an astounding 94%! This is a powerful example of both the reach and the richness mobile devices can bring to education in all corners of the world.
The prevalence of mobile devices means that we are more connected now than ever before. Sometimes this isn’t a good thing. We all need to be able to go off the grid from time to time to get away and clear our minds, but this ability to connect with people around the globe can have tremendous benefits.
Airbnb: Airbnb may not be helping blind people go on exploratory adventures or teaching children in India, but it is helping change the lives of individuals and small businesses by opening up their services to a global market. By creating a central platform for people to both post and book accommodations at hotels, cabins, and private residences around the globe, the app brings people together who likely never would have met. Many times these interactions result in lasting friendships. Airbnb is unique in that it uses the sometimes impersonal medium of technology, to bring people together in the real world.
The Power of Mobile Experience
The pervasiveness of mobile technology has opened up the door to tremendous opportunities for individual designers and developers to create applications with enormous reach. The power this provides allows us to build apps that can change people’s lives for the better in ways we’ve never been able to before.
It’s become cliché, but the possibilities truly are limitless. Imagine the feeling of creating an application that improves the lives of thousands of people across the globe—people who you may never meet but whose lives you’ve touched in profound and meaningful ways. My hope is that the examples provided above will inspire you to create apps that can deliver the ultimate user experience.
This article originally appeared in the October 18 issue of UX Magazine. To view the article there, please click here.