Write Your Own iApp (Part 2)

When I first wrote Write Your Own iApp, I genuinely didn’t think there would be a follow-up to it.  But there needs to be one and here it is.  The reason I’m posting this is to tell you about a big mistake I made so you don’t make the same one!SitterSat iPhone App Screenshot

In the original post, I talked about the following high-level tasks in creating your own app.

  1. Write your app
  2. Create your original artwork
  3. Test your app in the simulator
  4. Test your app on real phones
  5. Deploy your app to the AppStore
  6. Upgrade your Apple account
  7. Promote your app
  8. Support your app

They still hold true for me.  I still believe in those.  However, I left one big one out.  One I didn’t know was there, but in hindsight…well, you know, was obvious.  It should have been number 1.5 I suppose.  Or maybe 0 (that’s a zero), as in I should have done this before I wrote the app.

The big mistake

I made a decision in the beginning to write the app as an add-on utility to the desktop version of the website (I’ll just refer to that as the website from this point on).  I alluded to this in the app description.  The app lacked a lot of functionality on purpose.  It was built for speed and simplicity in posting a new job or in accepting a job.  It really wasn’t intended to do a lot of those fancy things I’d built in the website.  I really like all those things on the website, but didn’t build them in the app.

On one hand, you can say that’s not a mistake.  It lines up with well with what I talked about in high-level bullet 1.  It’s a focused, clear intentioned app.  It does its thing and does it well.  That’s very true actually.  It does its intended function very well.  But there was a problem I didn’t anticipate.  A lot of people want to use the app and only the app.  They don’t want to use to the website (since there is an app) and that’s not what I had in mind.  I thought people would be more than happy to use both (me chuckling, sheepishly).  My big mistake was in not understanding what exists today.  Here’s what I mean.

I wanted people to do more

But I also wanted people to do it my way and then I didn’t give them the tools to do it!  I wanted people to become familiar with the website, in all its glory, and use the app for speed when they needed to perform a specific discrete function.  I wanted people to set up their full profile on the website.  I wanted people to connect with others that same way.  I wanted people to do this and that and this and that and finally only use the app when it was for something specific.

What was I thinking?  People don’t have all the time or even desire to do all that.  They don’t want to use a mix of this and that and this and that, they want to use whatever makes their life more productive and better.  After all, that was our goal too.  And having them go through hoops to do what I wanted them to do didn’t work.  So, what happened?

People downloaded the app and some stopped there

We had lots of people download the app from all over the world.  That was really exciting (mini-mistake – don’t underestimate the popularity of the AppStore).  However, we found they were not using the website to set their profile picture, first name, city/state or city/country and all those other little things you are used to doing when you finish registering on a site.  They were not connecting with others, again not something we put in the app, so they were not able to really make use of everything SitterSat had to offer.  Some people just stopped there.  We care about those people who weren’t using it, so we listened and they told us about the problem.

So the big mistake is not that I built this app that lacked functionality.  Again, my big mistake was in not understanding what exists today.  It’s that if an app exists, people (well, a lot of people, not everyone) will generally want to use it and only it.  They won’t want to bounce around on various platforms.  They will want the app to do most everything the website does.  They’ll understand if it doesn’t do literally everything, but will be annoyed if it doesn’t offer the most critical functionality.  They’ll be confused if you do what I did and not offer what would be considered required functionality!  I should know better.  It’s mobile.  People want mobile.  They want the apps.  Whether it’s a hefty iOS app or merely a shell on a html5 site (not to suggest that would make it through Apple’s approval process) or whatever, they want the app.  And if there’s an app, you better make sure it offers both required and critical functionality at a minimum.

Again, seems so obvious in hindsight.

Where to go from here

I’m glad I learned this lesson now.  I will have a much greater appreciation for this going forward.  I can also imagine some people reading this shaking their heads in disbelief.  Those are the really smart people I mentioned at the bottom of the original article that are actually very good at this stuff and don’t stumble along the way.  Hats off to them.

So here’s the plan.

Encourage the use of v2.0 of the SitterSat iPhone app.  A version that offers both required and critical functionality, but stays true to the speed and focus of its intended purpose.  In our pursuit to make others happy with v2.0, we don’t want to disenfranchise people who use v1 today and like it for what it is.

Create a Windows and Android app.  We’ve had a lot of demand for both and can use lessons learned here to reduce confusion and increase customer delight when building those.

For fun, I deployed my first ROR test app to Heroku a short while ago.  I’d like to find time to rewrite this entire system in ruby…what a great way to learn ruby, rails and lots of other gems at the same time for a meaningful app.  But I think my wife won’t be happy about that (I spend hours learning details upon details upon details), so I have a bad feeling about this one.

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  1. Version Updates to iOS Apps « about ss

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