Book Review: The Mobile Frontier by Rachel Hinman

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There are two words that jump to mind after having read The Mobile Frontier by Rachel Hinman. Those words are “Inspirational” and “Insightful”.

Now, you know how much we love insights on this blog, so I consider the latter to be a must for any UX book. Considering the book to be inspirational was a real surprise.

Arrow‘The Mobile Frontier’ Book Giveaway!

Before we move on… I would like to mention that Actual Insights will be giving away a free copy of Rachel Hinman’s The Mobile Frontier. All you need to do is like us on Facebook (there… over on the right hand side… if you’re using a desktop browser of course) and we will draw a winner from our fan base.

Are you already a fan? You’re so cool… we love you 🙂 or in other words, you will automatically participate with the give away.

The Mobile Frontier - Rachel Hinman

Rachel Hinman

About Rachel Hinman

Over the years I have purchased and read many Rosenfeld Media books. Now, I won’t say that all of their books were worth reading (this also depends on the reader’s skill level in the covered subject matter), but the quality of the content has always been good.

And so Rachel Hinman published The Mobile Frontier. Rachel is seen as a thought leader in mobile user experience design. With past working experiences at Adaptive Path and Yahoo!, Rachel now works as a Senior Research Scientist at the Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, California.

Into The Great Wide Open

What made Rachel Hinman’s book stand out, at least to me, were the first few chapters. In those chapters Rachel describes the reason for using the word ‘Frontier’ in her title, philosophize about the impact of mobile platforms, and talks about the emergence of NUI, the Natural User Interface.

The word Frontier, from Rachel’s point of view, refers to more than just a piece of land or field. For Rachel, the word [sic] symbolizes the unlimited opportunity, and shedding of current restraints. Frontiers inspire in us the sense that anything is possible.

The Mobile Frontier - Oklahoma Land Rush

The Oklahoma land rush of 1899… pioneering the new frontier!

As an example, Rachel tells us the story about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. In that year, on April 22nd an estimated 50.000 people participated in an event in which the US government gave away two million-acre of land. Land which was previously known as the ‘Unassigned Lands’.

Mobile represents the Unassisgned Lands for us, in this day and age, and it is up to us to conquer this frontier.

Traveling Without Moving

The intro is the inspirational part. Without this, the book would have read like any other, focussing only on the should-do’s and how-do’s instead of the why–even-do-in-the-first-place.

One phrase that stuck with me throughout the book was:

“…mobile phones aren’t just communication devices, they’re portals into another world.”

The comparison between mobile and desktop is also made, but this is the obvious part. As humans we are more natural when moving, being on the go… being mobile, so it is only natural that for us to adopt mobile the way we have in the last few years.

The Mobile Frontier - Portals to another World

One Location, Two Worlds… the mobile portal (albeit not on the move… in this case)

In other words, or as the example Rachel gave, you can physically be somewhere, but your mobile phone can take you anywhere you want to go.

The Rest… Definitely Worth Reading

Alright… how do you sum up 9 chapters of juicy Mobile UX insights into a single blog post? Yeah, yeah, I know the answer, it’s impossible. But other than the inspirational part, let me tell you a little more about my thoughts on the book.

For those eager to read more… Rachel has posted an extended excerpt of her book on

When we read beyond the chapters on multidevice experiences, mobile ux patterns, prototyping and animation, we hit the last two, but my favorite chapters.

A Matter Of Senses

As an amateur psychology-fan-boy (is that even a term???) I enjoy reading about human behavior and cognition. It only seemed natural for me to want to learn more about human interaction with mobile devices.

Touch and gestures, gestures and touch, it doesn’t matter in which order you put them, the end verdict will be that they are crucially important to any mobile experience.

Design For The Finger

Designing for touch comes nowhere near designing for mouse cursor. Figuring out how people physically use their mobile devices to input data is the key to designing the effective interface, or as I once heard someone say:

“You need to design for the finger.”

The Mobile Frontier - Design for the Finger

Design for the Finger

Their fingers are not as accurate as the pixel-precise mouse cursor. Take that into consideration and the fact that people will use their mobile devices… well, on the move, it because painstakingly clear that web page real estate just got a whole lot more valuable. Desktop design patterns just won’t do it anymore.

Here is  good example of what this means from a design perspective:

The Mobile Frontier - Example’s great example (right image) of designing for the finger.

It is this frame of mind that you will get you to design a succesful mobile UI and business proposition for your mobile platform.

HID 2.0

On a side-note… the term Human-Input-Device is starting to sound more literal day by day, don’t you think?

Forget keyboards, forget mice and consider touch. Apple has already jumped on this band wagon, but this is only the beginning. Let mobile be that frontier. That frontier that will not restrain your creativity to find ways to interact with humans on the move.


Yeah, yeah… I recommend this book. That should have been clear in the preceding paragraphs. All that I can tell you is, is that I am getting on this band wagon (if I wasn’t on it already).

This book is a great source of inspiration that not only tells you how to approach mobile design and the mobile user experience, but it also tells you why you need to keep an open mind and think like the Oklahoma settlers of 1899.

If you want to label it a rebellion? Then do it, don’t limit yourself to the (desktop) past, the future is yours for the taking.

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About Matthew Niederberger

Matthew works as Conversion Optimisation Manager at Ziggo BV. In his free time he enjoys family life as well as digging into online user research material whilst frequently generating some of his own, which he freely shares here on


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