Fluid UI and the Mobile Gold Rush

October 29, 2012
By David Wong

Previously, on “thoughts from the Dublin Web Summit”… we saw that The Next Big Thing is mobile. But before you swing your bag-on-a-stick over the shoulder and go off to join the Mobile Gold Rush, bear in mind that the landscape is still settling. It might be startups like Fluid UI that end up being the ones who manage to harness this bandwagon.

That is to say that the surer bet may be one step removed and lie in serving this expanding market. To paraphrase Uncle Ben from Spider-Man, “With great bandwagons come great opportunities.” In the Wild West gold rushes, I’d wager that the saloons did pretty well for themselves by keeping the gold panners well-watered and entertained.

A study a few months ago indicated that 70% of those using mobile apps either don’t spend anything at all or spend very little on apps. The app economy is still disproportionately dependent on the minority of big spenders; the top 3% make up 20% of the total spend. It may be that the increasing role of mobile and its value is as part of the mix – blending with a company’s web presence, rather than as a stand-alone channel that supplants the traditional web.

Whatever the underlying reasons are for the growth in mobile, it’s got its own growing ecosystem of startups that cater to those who are creating mobile apps and there are interesting market opportunities in this space.

Fluid UI Logo

One of my favourite startups from the Dublin Web Summit was Fluid UI.  It’s a tool for creating prototypes of mobile interfaces, and it enables the designer to do so quickly. In the age of the Lean Startup, where it’s important to have rapid learning from short development cycles, an intuitive tool like Fluid UI can really help to speed up the process of adapting your designs.

iPhone screenshot of Fluid UI

You can use it to create either simple wireframes or more fully specced-out prototypes. Rather than listing what it does, you’ll get a more immediate idea of whether the Fluid UI tool works for you if you just go and take it for a test drive and get a feel for the interface; the features; and the library of UI elements. (I feel it’s very important to point out that you can clone a screen by clicking on a sheep icon – nice touch. In Memoriam Dolly.)

Personally, I can see that Fluid UI would be useful for working on UX screen flows because it’s easy to link pages and see how the navigation for your app works.

Android Screenflow of Fluid UI

I like that the interface is very minimalist. I did speak to somebody at the Dublin Web Summit who thought it looked a bit ‘bare’ but I know that the guys at Fluid UI made a deliberate decision to have it that way so that the focus stays on the user’s prototype. I think it was the right call. The danger of too much furniture is that it influences the user, whether they’re consciously copying or subliminally ‘inspired’ by it.

There’s a team of seven behind the Fluid UI tool, headed up by the founders Dave Kearney and Ian Hannigan. Progress has been steady. Development of the tool began in earnest in January 2011; Enterprise Ireland put in €50,000 for a 10% stake in Fluid in June 2011; they launched in July 2012; and in August 2012 they joined Dogpatch Labs Europe in Dublin (which offers free office space for entrepreneurs).

Fluid UI has a free option if you’re just working on one project.  The paid plans follow the familiar three-tier pricing model of many SaaS businesses – 3 projects cost $29/month, 10 projects cost $49/month and for unlimited projects it costs $129.

I’ll be keeping an interested and friendly eye on Fluid UI to see how they develop. I liked the team and I liked how they interact with one another, and I think that the open and supportive company culture that they’re cultivating bodes well for their future.

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If I ever take Plantedd to join the mobile gold rush, I know which saloon’s swing doors I’ll be passing through.