No App is an Island

August 18th, 2014

There’s a certain level of self-centeredness that goes into app development. This is natural, most apps solve a problem or fill a need, they usually have a single purpose or focus. This is normally good.

What’s not good is how often app developers appear to forget (or simply don’t care) about the greater user experience. Third party software is an interesting phenomena.

In the case of the iPhone, Apple takes great care to ensure that the user experience for the whole phone is pleasant. App developers also want their app to be a pleasant experience and keep users coming back to their app. They want their interface to be friendly and usable. Similarly, the user is looking for a “thing” that solves a “problem” that they have. Whether this problem is a better way to check email, a more fun way to connect with friends, or simply a way to pass time, they also want to have a pleasant experience.

It seems like everyone should be on the same page here. What’s the problem?

The problems is that when you’re focusing on a single aspect of the system, an individual app, its easy to loose sight of the other apps around it.

What do I mean by this?

If an app pops up a message asking the user to rate it, this in and of itself is an innocuous event. Yet, we know that Apple has sold over 500 Million iPhones and the App Store has sold over 50 Billion apps. The math is easy, that’s an average of 100 apps per user. So take an innocuous event and multiply it by 100. Not so innocuous anymore.

When thinking about what their app does, developers would be wise to think about what the users other apps will also do.

This extends beyond rating messages, though that’s one of the bigger ones. This extends to account creation and every other notification that an app might want to send out.

How many apps continue to give me notifications about features they have that I neither want or need? Answer: Too many.

Unfortunately, big picture thinking is often invisible to the end user, its easier to notice when things don’t work than noticing when they work well. Yet, it’s arguably this type of understanding which makes good apps truly great.


Further reading: Apple Can’t Ban “Rate This App” Dialogs