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This is more a philosophical question, and it's been hard phrasing it right to get an answer, so apologies if this has been asked before.

We currently have a desktop app that's a textbook definition of an NN/g Complex App: lots of different workflows that are non-linear, and the users have specialized training in order to understand and use the features. There are a lot of features and functions we have added to it over the years.

We're exploring ways to make a native iOS/Android app that provides access to at least some of the features of the full desktop experience.

My question is what's the best UX practice for complex apps on mobile devices? I've read that we shouldn't bar people from accessing any part of the desktop content just because they're on mobile, but also that we have to simplify things for people otherwise the mobile app is unusable.

Is it acceptable to design a mobile app that only supports a subset of the features of the desktop one? Can we tell the user that some of these features are not available on mobile and that they need to use the desktop version to use it?

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The short answer is NO. They don't need it.

However, the version with more features isn't necessarily desktop. Granted, it's more common, just not always the case. Consider Meta Business App or Instagram. There are features that only exist on their mobile apps, and they don't exist on the desktop.

Now, in general, apps where users are more or less sophisticated tend to have a more complete desktop version and a simpler version for mobile. This can be for a variety of reasons, including:

  • App size
  • Screen Size
  • Controls allowance
  • Type of users (usually, complex software is used in production environments)
  • Accessibility
  • etc.

So, to answer your question: you sort of answered it yourself!

Is it acceptable to design a mobile app that only supports a subset of the features of the desktop one? Can we tell the user that some of these features are not available on mobile and that they need to use the desktop version to use it?

(and the answer is YES)

To learn more, you might be interested in this article by Adjust

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    Oh I didn't even think about the reverse case! That's a fantastic point. Really appreciate your thoughts! Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 23:14

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