3 Tips For A Winning App

Earlier this year, I made some recommendations for retailers about to design their first smartphone app. Since then, the rise of apps on a whole variety of platforms has continued apace. So now it's time to make some broader comments about app function and the user experience. Here's my 3 tips:

  1. Get In My Mind, not my face - apps are not a web browser. They should have a specific purpose, and the brand behind them should be humble enough to realise you have other things going on in your life besides the application! A good example of this is MapMyRun. Its task is simply to track your route (run, bike, whatever) and capture some key stats about it like time, pace, elevation and so on. Once it's switched on, you don't need to look at it, or play with it. You simply get on with your workout, and check in again at the end. It doesn't bully you for attention, beep or chime for interaction. Brands should decide what the end outputs are for the user, and the benefits they will bring. It's akin to Seth Godin's wise words on permission marketing - don't interrupt unless you have to and certainly not without asking first.
  2. Integrate social media, theirs and yours - many apps today (and other online platforms) provide ways to 'publicise' user activity via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and a heap of other communities. For example, Amazon enables you to tell the world which book you've just bought. I can ask MapMyRun to tweet my followers with my workout achievements. Offering this in-app integration is useful as it saves time for users, and there's usually a branded tagline within the tweet to promote the provider too. So far so good, but too few providers integrate their own Twitter service. For example, the excellent Argos app includes its own Twitter feed, chirping out deals and promos, but doesn't enable the user to directly communicate with it. Such customer enquiries are valued within a website environment, why not an app too?
  3. Ease My Burden - one of the great things about smartphone apps is that they take up no more (physical) space in your pocket, whether you're carrying 5 or 50. That's important when it comes to user experience in the wider context. Every loyalty card I add bulks out my wallet, each additional key on my fob drills a bigger hole in my pocket. So if an app can 'hold' something inside it, that saves the user having to carry it physically, that's a real plus. A good example is mobile boarding passes, launched in late 2008 by a handful of airlines like Air New Zealand and American Airlines, and now adopted by over 30 carriers. Another favourite is the SBB Swiss railways app, which removes the need to ever carry a timetable ever again (lots of imitators in other European countries but none quite as good I think)

The things that people carry are important to them - if your app can become part of that set, with the added advantage of weighing nothing extra, it will become an indispensable part of their lives. For apps, that's heaven!