Not all apps are equal

Issue 19 | June 2011



Apps are big news. Everybody wants one, and I do mean everybody.

Banks, cinemas, newspapers—they all want a slice of this shiny new pie everyone’s talking about. But do they actually need one? More succinctly, do their customers need one? And what makes an app worth the effort in the first place anyway?

The first – and most critical – consideration is audience. Who is your app for? Who will use it, when will they use it, and where? How will your app improve their experience of your brand? What customer-focussed need will it fulfil that your other digital services can’t?

The second consideration is situation. Where will your customers be using your app? When they’re commuting home from the office, or sitting on the sofa in front of the television?

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Aral Balkan (@ aral) speak at The Big M conference in Bath, England. A self-titled “Experience Designer”, Aral mentioned a simple ideology so resonant that it’s quickly become my own philosophy when thinking about apps; “a well-designed app can make the difference between the user having a bad day, or the user having a good day.”

When you’re thinking about making an app, ask yourself “how is my app going to make someone’s day just that little bit better? What really useful feature is my app going to give this person to make their life that fraction simpler?” Without getting right under the skin of your customers – without fundamentally understanding their needs – your app could well be a flop. But what makes an app successful? In a word, ‘focus’. Apps work best when they focus on solving just a very small number of very specific, repeating tasks or problems. Even if it’s just the same single thing over and over again – such as taking a nice photograph, or sending a short message – the best apps make it as simple and quick to do as possible.

Beware, though; in the rapidly-expanding app ecosystem, the iPad has come as something of a curve ball. One common misconception right now is thinking about the iPad as a sort of giant iPhone. ‘Well it looks the same, and it has apps and the App Store and all that stuff,’ which is true.

But how many people do you see queuing to buy their morning train ticket with their iPad in their back  pocket? Similarly, if you’ve tried to read large amounts of copy on a tiny phone screen, you’ll know how  uncomfortable that can be.

So, when you’re deciding what app will best serve the needs of your customers, it’s imperative that you consider when and how they’ll be using it.Make my day

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