Can we visualize data on a mobile device?
Not only is the answer “yes,” the need to visualize data on mobile devices is increasing very rapidly. I’m not talking about iPads and other larger-than-smartphone screens, I mean visualizing on the iPhone and its equivalents … a very small screen with very little space for numbers.
Simple Data Visualization
This is where visualization takes on new meaning. A portable computer like a smartphone has a perfect use case in helping decipher data about being on the move … while being on the move. HipMunk has done this extremely well for a few years, putting flight results on the very small screen in a way that is immediately understandable:
- Price (on left)
- Airline (if there are multiple airlines)
- Number of stops
- Departure and arrival time
- Total time (bar length)
- Agony index (ordering by price and complexity)
This is a great example of representing complex data in simple terms, but it isn’t interactive. Truly visualizing Big Data on a mobile device needs more than reporting … it needs to give the user the ability to interact with data to create dynamic visualization of data.
Interactive Mobile Data
Interaction requires a system that’s different from simple data displays like HipMunk. For starters, slicing and dicing data requires either that more data gets pushed to the device and kept in memory or there are more calls back and forth to the data crunching source. Either choice has a price tag. With data growing faster every day, the choice to put interactive, visualized data on mobile devices is a foregone conclusion.
In healthcare in particular, the need to have interactive data at a moment’s notice is pushing development of apps that allow doctors to visualize and share data with other medical teams. Healthcare information offers a singular opportunity to take large amounts of raw data displayed as trends that can be overlaid in combination to give far more accurate views of where a patient has been and where they are in the moment, health-wise.
Mobile data visualization involves keeping the screen simple when possible, but detailed when necessary. Controls need to be finger-tip ready, not "tap and see" difficult. More than anything, though, the data needs to be streamlined so that by the time it gets to the device, the ability to slice and dice information doesn’t rely on a five-bar connection.
Industrial-strength apps are here, driven by business needs, and mass-consumption apps are arriving slowly but surely as demand for wearables and other ways of tracking personal data makes their development worthwhile.