Mobile applications sort themselves out into various categories – but nearly all have one desire in common – they’d like to engage you. Please. Preferably in a manner that will have you coming back for more. But most applications fail to achieve this because they lack a concept I call presence. Presence, as I see it,  is the ability to manipulate and present data in such a manner that you feel the application expressing a character – and a clear purpose – as you interact with it. The more presence an app has the closer you feel the intention of the maker.

When an application lacks presence the time on the device is measured in minutes or hours. When an application has presence the time on the device has the potential of relationship. Many developers who focus too much on the expression of a technology can lose sight of this and the experience of the application becomes hollow – a one off, “yeah, that was cool but…”. It’s a bells and whistles app without a soul. It’s an empty shell, a ghost.

Presence can be described and developed in a product road map. A well defined product roadmap is like a story arc. The purpose of any good story arc is to keep the reader engaged along a series of state changes. A good state change keeps you on the edge of your seat. A series of good state changes becomes a page turner. State changes in application design are features that are designed in order to enhance the user experience – over time. These can be subtle or rich. They can be conveyed in a simple reminder email, a new feature or content.

Though unlike the linear construct of a story arc app developers and designers can embed feedback loops which themselves contribute to the arc – beyond the narrative. A responsive product lifecycle increases presence and relationship as the application itself develops a meaningful purpose for the user. We all like apps, and will continue to use apps, that have a well defined (and simple to understand) purpose.

So the next time you develop an app think presence.