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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003
SPECIAL THEME: Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User

Values of Mobile Applications to End-Users

by Keng Siau, Fiona Nah and Hong Sheng

What do end-users expect to have in mobile applications? What are the values of mobile applications that are important to end-users? How these values can be achieved? The Mobile Commerce Research team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln examined the values of mobile applications using the 'Value-Focused Thinking' approach. This research developed means-ends objective networks depicting how mobile applications would be able to achieve values expected by end-users.

Mobile applications are undoubtedly the next wave in the evolution of e-business. Possessing features and functions that are unique to mobile devices, such as mobility, personality, and flexibility, mobile applications are able to provide end-users’ added values, including anytime, anywhere access, ability to pinpoint users’ locations, and flexibility in arranging tasks. It is predicted that the mobile users will increase dramatically in the near future and the rate for mobile services will drop significantly. However, the promising future of mobile applications has been inhibited by the infant stage of mobile applications, the drawbacks of mobile devices, and the limitations of mobile services. Nevertheless, mobile applications are gaining attention both from academics and practitioners. Understanding the values of mobile applications has become particularly important. It would be helpful to explore the values of mobile applications from the end-users’ perspectives (customers and company’s employees) and determine how the values could be achieved, especially for companies embarking on implementing mobile applications or customers who are embracing mobile applications.

To understand end-users’ perspectives about mobile applications, the best way is to ask them. We conducted two research projects to examine the values of mobile applications. One studies the values of mobile commerce to customers, whilst another one examines the values of mobile applications in a large public utility company in the US. The same Value-Focused Thinking approach was used in both studies. Value-Focused Thinking approach allows us to explore the end-users’ values and define relationships among the values — ie, how one objective can be achieved by other objectives. Open-ended interviews were conducted to collect values of mobile applications. The approach consists of four steps:

  • Identify user wishes, concerns, problems, and values in mobile applications.
  • Convert user input into objectives. An objective is something one wants to strive toward.
  • Distinguish between fundamental objectives and means objectives. If one objective is important because it will influence another objective, it is a means objective. Otherwise, it is a fundamental objective.
  • Build a means-ends objective network depicting specific relationships between means objectives and fundamental objectives.

The results of the two studies presented values of mobile applications from end-users’ perspectives and determine the relationships among the values. Some of the interesting findings include:

  • Convenience and efficiency are the main advantages of mobile applications both for customers and company’s employees. They are the two primary fundamental objectives that end-users expect mobile applications to provide.
  • Mobility is the basis for the values of mobile applications. The ability to be used at anywhere, and at any place was highlighted by the interviewees as the main reason to adopt mobile applications. It is also the main advantage mobile applications have over traditional personal computers. In a way, it is a 'necessary condition' for mobile applications.

The researches also suggested some areas that need to be enhanced to ensure the wide diffusion of mobile applications. They are:

  • Limitations of mobile devices. Being much smaller, mobile devices have small screen and complicated input mechanism, and are considered to be more difficult to use than personal computers. The low display resolution and small display screen have inhibited information to be displayed completely and clearly. The limited battery life has restricted the mobility of end-users.
  • Mobile service quality. The technical restrictions have posed a challenge for the wide diffusion of mobile applications. Low bandwidth, unstable connection, and limited coverage area are the main drawbacks of current mobile technology and services. In our interviews, these are listed as the main obstacles to overcome when using mobile applications. Although we believe that with the advancement of mobile technology, these problems would be alleviated or resolved in the near future, more research needs to be conducted at the current stage.
  • Security options. Security is a major concern for mobile applications. Wireless transmission, in a way, biases end-users to perceive mobile applications to be more vulnerable and unsecured. Thus, more security enhancements and options must be provided to ensure the security of data and business transactions.

Our research not only shows the causal relationships among the values of mobile applications, but it also suggests areas for further research and development. This research steam is ongoing and we are currently investigating the human-computer interaction aspects of mobile devices and mobile applications.

Further Reading
Siau, K., Lim, E., Shen, Z., “Mobile Commerce – Promises, Challenges, and Research Agenda,” Journal of Database Management, Vol. 12, No. 3, Jul-Sep, 2001, pp. 4-13.

Siau, K., Shen, Z., “Mobile Commerce Applications in Supply Chain Management,” Journal of Internet Commerce, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2002, pp. 3-14.

Siau, K., Shen, Z., “Building Customer Trust in Mobile Commerce,” Communications of the ACM, Vol. 46, No. 4, 2003, pp. 91-94.

Siau, K., Shen, Z., “Mobile Communications and Mobile Services,” International Journal of Mobile Communications, Vol. 1, Nos. 1/2, 2003, pp. 3-14.

Krogstie, J., Lyytinen, K., Opdahl, A., Pernici, B., Siau, K., Smolander, K., “Research Areas and Challenges for Mobile Information Systems,” International Journal of Mobile Communications (forthcoming).

Siau, K., Sheng, H., Nah, F., Davis, S., “Trust in Mobile Business: An Empirical Investigation,” International Journal of Electronic Business (forthcoming).

Please contact:
Keng Siau, Department of Management
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA
Tel: +1 402 472 3078