Book Review: Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps by Joe Welinske

Currently, smart phones and tablet devices are encouraging users to adopt new ways of seeking information through gestures, UI behaviours, and different ways of accessing help content. Users will take more time to interact with these mobile devices with less frustration. In today's era of very short time-spans, mobile application developers and UI designers are required to design and develop innovative ways of reducing their learning time.

Joe Welinske has authored a book on Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps (http://www.writersua.com/mobile/book.htm).

What is User Assistance?

User assistance (UA) is a general term for guided assistance given to a user of a software product. The phrase incorporates all forms of help available to a user. Assistance can also provide automatic task performance or taking users through procedures, based on the question that the users ask. The term is broader than online help and includes procedural and tutorial information. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_assistance).

What this book is NOT about

As the title itself addresses, this book is not about improving usability of the mobile applications themselves. However, it provides quite a few valuable tips to improve mobile application-specific user experience, because it deals with UI characteristics and technical constraints of mobile apps.

Who should read this book?

Technical Writers:

This is a great book for technical writing professionals who are interested in learning about creating user assistance for mobile applications.

Mobile App Developers:

This book is an ideal start-up guide for mobile application developers who wish to grasp how user assistance can be provided and how it can be technically realized. It contains a lot of technical resources and tool proposals.

UX Designers / UX Consultants:

UX designers can refer this handy book to know about the various technical and design guidelines for creating user assistance on smartphones. It will be particularly valuable when they work with mobile app developers to discuss the choice of platform/technology for UA with a common technical knowledge.

The book has 132 pages and contains the following 10 chapters:

1. User Assistance in a Mobile World

An interesting insight in the first chapter is the growing number of apps that are not available in the app store. These apps are "side cars" to full-featured enterprise applications; the "side cars" apps are used in functional areas like human resources, sales, and customer services. Also, the chapter includes sections on the required skillset for developing Mobile UA and other areas that map to the mobile UA such as localization, Agile development, etc.

2. Getting Started

Device line-up, acquisition tips, and information about simulators and emulators form Chapter 2.

3. Designing for Mobile User Assistance

In Chapter 3, examples of many apps and user assistance are listed with screen captures. You will get an idea of UA in various forms.

4. Creating Helpful Words and Images

Chapter 4 focuses on several types of gestures. Also, it points out the choice of words and images and how they play a huge role in assisting the user to create an effective user assistance experience.

5. Browser-based Help

Chapter 5 discusses about developing browser-based help for mobile applications. It provides coding/testing resources valuable for developers.

6. iPhone and IPod Touch (iOS)
7. Android
8. Windows Phone
9. The iPad and Tablets

Chapters 6 through 9 provide detailed information about the hardware, software requirements, setting up development environment, and creating user interface, text and screen captures for Apple iOS, Android, and Windows smart phone operating systems.

10. Integrating with Other Types of User Assistance

Chapter 10 helps readers to learn how to integrate mobile UA with blogs, support forums, social media, and desktop applications.

The screen captures in the book are sometimes hard to read. To avoid ambiguities the author has posted the screenshots at http://www.writersua.com/mobile/.

Joe's book is an excellent guide to get started in the world of mobile user assistance for a broad range of mobile application related professionals.

About the reviewers:

Arun J. Martin

Arun is a usability analyst in Bangalore. His main interest is in ethnographic studies. Arun is a member of STC and UPA.

Noriko Osaka / Principal, Crossfrontier Ltd.

Noriko is a UX specialist with both business and technical background. With her research & consulting experience and Web direction & management skills, she provides effective UX services turning study/evaluation results into online reality.

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