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Mobile Prototyping Tools (Part 1 of 2) – Axure

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In the recent past, I have been tasked with designing mobile applications for iPhone. Axure is the prototyping tool we use at Evantage and it has served me well in terms of creating prototypes for mobile applications and demonstrating them on a l

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However, I have had trouble viewing the prototypes on an iPhone. The screen size shrinks on the iPhone making it difficult to read the content on the screen. In the near future we expect to use these prototypes to gather feedback from users and design applications for other devices (Android, Blackberry, iPad, etc). To ensure that we have the tools at Evantage to meet the demand, I spent some time looking at the workarounds with Axure and pros and cons of other mobile prototyping tools designed for the UX community.

This post focuses primarily on how to use Axure to create mobile prototypes. In my next post, I will talk about the other tools I evaluated (MobiOne, Justinmind, Photoshop) and summarize the resources available for UX designers (tools, templates, icons, etc) for creating mobile application concepts.

The Evaluation Process

To ensure that I evaluated all the tools equally (sounds familiar, right?), I decided to design a simple prototype that incorporated the key interactions for mobile websites and applications, like scrolling a content page, navigating through a website or application, and interacting with a form.

Wireframes for the prototype

Wireframes for the prototype

As a second step, I used the tools I had identified to create the prototypes and evaluated them on the following criteria:

  • Ease of creating the prototype
  • Level of interactivity within the prototype
  • Ability to customize the design screens (color, fonts, images, icons)
  • Flexibility of creating prototypes for different smartphones (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm Pre, iPad)
  • Ease of viewing the prototype on a smartphone
  • Level of customer support
  • Cost

Creating the Prototype

Step 1: Axure has a collection of custom widget libraries for mobile devices that will save you the trouble of creating your own. Download the screen resolution and other widgets related to the device(s) you are designing for (iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia). Ensure that you save these in your “My Axure RP Libraries” folder; otherwise you will have to load them every time you open your Axure file.

Step 2: Assuming that you have the wireframes on paper (or in your mind), create the screens using the widgets. Add the required interaction.

Viewing the Prototype on a Smartphone:

Based on informal testing

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on my colleagues’ devices, it seems that the prototype generated by Axure can be viewed easily on a Blackberry (Storm). However if you were to view it on an iPhone or a HTC Incredible (Android) it appears like a thumbnail on the top right of the screen (refer to the image below).

Thumbnail rendering of Axure prototype on a smartphone

Thumbnail rendering - before code was added

To resolve this issue, Axure customer support (support@axure.com) directed me to the Safari reference library

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and demonstrated how I could use the inline frame widget to define the screen size of the prototype.

After testing both options, I preferred using the guidelines outlined in the Safari reference library. The prototype looked better on the smartphone using this option even though it required me to go through the tedious task of adding code on all HTML pages. On other hand, using the Axure inline frame was quicker. It required

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me to create one HTML page and add a line of code in it. The drawback however was that prototype on the smartphone had some extra lines of space around the frame. I thought that that broke the visual design and thus discarded this option.

Step 3: If you choose to add a line of code on all the pages, open the html files and add the required code. I opened the files using notepad.

Adding the code ensures that it fits the device you are designing for. You could either add a generic code that would scale the prototype automatically based on the device

Or you could specify the width of the device. For example for an

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iPhone the code would be
.

Image showing where to add the code

Image showing where to add the code

essay starters

If you don’t want the user to zoom-in or increase the size of the screen use the following code .
This could be for an application.

If you decide to use the inline frame, add the following code on the page;

Step 4: Upload the files on the server and view them on the smartphone. View the final prototype created using the process outlined in the document. Note that the zoom-in feature has been disabled for the application screens.

Image showing the final prototype

Image showing the final prototype

Other observations:

  • If you add a hyperlink on a page that links back to the page you’re currently viewing, it will show up as ‘page not found’. For instance, I had linked the Evantage logo in the prototype to the homepage. When I clicked on the logo from the homepage, it showed up as a page not found. Clicking on the logo from other pages worked just fine.
  • The prototype does not work well on Opera Mini browser. This seems to be an issue with the way Opera renders Axure prototypes in general, rather than anything related to this technique.

Evaluation: Axure

Rating

Comments

Ease of creating the prototype

5

The rating could be skewed because we use Axure to create all our prototypes at Evantage.

Level of interactivity within the prototype

4*

I was able to create the interactions I had planned.

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However the interactions that were planned were very basic.

* This is a preliminary rating and would need to be reassessed after creating a more interactive prototype using dynamic panels and forms.

Ability to customize the design screens (color, fonts, images, icons)

5

With tools like slice-image, gradient color picker, I was able to create this prototype (and others before) without using Photoshop.

Flexibility of creating prototypes for different smartphones (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, iPad)

3*

* This is a preliminary rating because I have tested the prototype only on the Blackberry Storm, HTC Incredible and iPhone. The rating could change after testing the prototype on other devices.

Ease of viewing the prototype on a smartphone

3

The fact that the prototype needs to be uploaded on a server to view it on the device

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adds a delay in the whole process. I like how some other tools are addressing this with a ”send to phone” feature.

Level of customer support

5

Axure customer support contacted me based on a tweet and took the initiative to resolve the issue. Awesome!

Cost

$598
(one year)

Hope this post was helpful in your quest to create mobile application prototypes.

Feel free to share your thoughts below and look out for part 2 on Mobile Prototyping Tools that will compare Axure with MobiOne, Justinmind and Photoshop.

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3 Responses to “Mobile Prototyping Tools (Part 1 of 2) – Axure”

  1. Thomas Link says:

    Hi Sheetal, thank you for the evaluation. I find Axure a great tool to make really sophisticated prototypes.

    You are working on the Windows Platform. You might want to use the “HeadInsert” Script by Joshua Morse to automatically update all desired pages of your prototype: http://joshuamorse.com/2009/01/14/axure-protonotes-an-alternative-to-protoshare/

    I personally prefer the LiveView Screencaster to view the result on the iPhone.

  2. VIJAY says:

    Hi Sheetal,
    thanks for the evaluation.
    waiting for your next post (how to use Axure to create mobile prototypes) as i am a new user to the ARP tool.

  3. [...] Mobile Prototyping Tools Sheetal Dube из Evantgage Consulting пишет об инструментах для проектирования мобильных интерфейсов. Первая статья из серии посвящена Axure и его полезности на всех этапах процесса проектирования. [...]