Wouldn’t it be nice… Apps that appeal…

Smartphones and tablets have indeed different usage patterns associated to them. Statistics from a study looking into usage of a news app indicate “meal bumps”, i.e. peaks of increased usage for either kind of device. Whereas the smartphone is the weapon of choice during the faster-paced meals breakfast and lunch the tablet seems to be the smoother choice from supper on and along the evening – until bed time at least when the little device just comes in more handy again.
So what, you might say, isn´t that pretty self-evident? Fair enough. Nevertheless it sheds light on the rather primordially different requirements posed on apps. As not (yet) owner of a tablet I want to elaborate on what is being expected of an app in terms of it being a smartphone application.

First, a very simple and clean interface is critical for success, and second a somewhat narrowed down set of total functions and options making both setup and usage fool proof. With the smartphone app markets maturing after 3-4 years´ existence users have increasingly higher expectations in terms of usability and relevance. We do not have more time at our disposal, and for those short moments on public transport or cueing for coffee or lunch there is a full range of apps installed on my device fiercely competing for my short attention span.

Those risen expectations make that dumbed down apps will not find users´ acceptance. Fair enough, Angry Birds had some success (…), but shooting grouses fluttering over a screen will not win any future award. Now, you might say, this is a contradiction in itself saying we need simpler yet complex apps. Provenly it is not. Apple has showcased this quadrature of the circle to be possible. No matter if you are a follower of this religion or not, its core dogma is combining a rich set of features with a shockingly high level of simplicity and usability. The call for more Apple like apps is for power in function whilst usage being easy as pie.

Two examples where my need for a smooth smartphone app remained unsatisfied: a) Electronic business cards apps and b) password encryption and storage solutions, like Keypass. Even though there are many of both, cumbersome setup and usage have led at least me to conclude that none of the existing solutions can currently satisfy my requirements. Even though I am able to live without both I think about it as lost chances – for app programmers in unrept profits and for users in not available benefit.

An encouraging example is TED – Ideas Worth Spreading (which is always a great thing no matter how applied). The app allows me to easily bookmark my favourite inspiring clips, maybe because they are too long for a short metro ride to work or just because it is convenient. At home I can watch them on a bigger screen and without time pressure. But I would like to bookmark even clips watched at home on my lean-forward. App vs. desktop 1 – 0. Even better would be to have both integrated (remember the “old” 3-screen notion?). Registering an account at TED I would expect the following: videos bookmarked early in the morning on my way to work appear on my account for follow-up back at home. Integration is the name of the game. This will drive users to the app, make them initially potentially pay for it and eventually use it and spread the word about it.

To conclude in this sense, let me recommend a great app I just found through a review: Zite really is what I call an Apple amongst apps. It is easy to setup (took me 15 seconds to customize it); it is visually appealing, with headlines and pictures in the cover story panel looking as great as never seen on a small smartphone screen. It features this effortless way of using it with an interface that just seems tailor-made for my fingers and intuitions; tapping, swiping, everything works as my intuition suggests at the first approach: tap once to make the menu bars disappear, tap again to make them reappear; swipe left and right to browse between the sections initially set as preferences (arts, politics, etc.). Last but not least, it is functionally rich. By feeding a certain selection from a set of prestigious high-quality newspapers and magazines it makes me feel what no newsfeed so far have managed: this is one app that satisfies my daily needs in terms of news on my smartphone close to exhaustively. This and no less is what every app should aim for. Developers, please be inspired. Service Providers, please be encouraged to facilitate. Users, please make your voices heard. Wouldn’t it be nice?

Next read

To commodity hell and back

Providing products or services that are commodities, meaning things that used to be premium but are no more, is a tricky thing. There once was a company that spent a lot of time thinking about how to stay away from “commodity hell” as they put it. This company offered the same service as many others [...]
Read more