Don’t tell me small means limited – a lesson from MLB for mobile application design

I was watching the Yankees play the Royals this afternoon on my iPad (thanks to and got to thinking that regardless of how much the mobile landscape has changed in the past 2 years — from advances in device computing power and screen resolution to the emergence of the mobile application — it just seems we still cannot get past one of the most important hurdles that limits real and true adoption of mobile; strong user interface design.

I’ve been immersed in business and mobile for most of my business life and even I’ve come to accept the limitation of the device but I’m tired of it and I blame pour user interface for this, not the technology. Whatever smartphone you use it is more powerful than the desktop computer you bought 5 years ago and is more connected than most households were 3 years ago — and at higher speeds. So why can’t we get the full experience we deserve?

Here’s my experience. When I ran Rove IT, we coached our customers to think that a subset of services was good enough to get their jobs done, that the goal of our application was to get in, get your job done and get out of the app as quickly as possible and that there was a limitation to the platform — some things were better suited for mobile over others. That may have been true when the application was built but not today. Analysts told us that the 500 functions our product offered paled in comparison to the actual functions needed to manage an IT environment. There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to do 100% of what you need to from your smartphone.

The reason you can’t is UI refinement or, in English, lazy design.

Take a look at the on-screen graphic taken from the game I was watching this afternoon:

This little application tells the important pieces of the status of the game. It tells you that the Yankees are beating the Royals 9 – 5 and that the Yankees are the home team. It tells you that the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the eighth, the bases are loaded and there is one out and the batter has not seen a pitch yet. All of this information from a tiny graphic tucked neatly into the top left corner of a television screen. There are variations of this for every network but they all follow the same conventions — and are easy to decipher if you understand its context.

So, the next time you hear the excuse that the mobile world is not ready for the functions you are asking for or that it can’t be done or that it isn’t suited for the size of screen or limitations of the platform, remember that it’s not about what can and can’t be done here, it is about the innovation and effort that goes into the design.

Don’t settle for half a product. Demand a full effort.

What examples of applications have you seen that really nail the design/functionality balance? Let me know below!

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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