Your Phone is the Account

August 4th, 2014

I don’t know what app developers are drinking these days, but I wish they would stop.

There’s a clear indication that most app developers come from a web background. Before you use a website you have to sign up for an account. This makes sense, because you could be anyone, anywhere, using any computer. You need a means to identify you, I get it.

When I’m using my phone though, there’s a 99.99% chance that I’m the person use my phone and a 0.01% chance that I’ve just been mugged. Part of this is Apple’s fault, because the first “apps” for iPhone had to be “web-apps” which is a fancy way of saying “useless.”

But that’s not the case anymore. People can program amazing and incredible applications that run on the little device in my pocket, but heaven forbid I actually have access to any of these features before creating a username and password! We really need to be sensitive about the shared phone situation where different users are using the same app on the same phone and need to log out after every use. /sarcasm

Recently I downloaded a free app called “Frontback.” It’s a camera app that takes a picture with both cameras  iPhone at the same time. It’s a fantastic concept… and it won’t let me use anything until I either create an account or log-in to facebook. Excuse me? You’re going to take a picture with my phone and put the resulting jpeg image in a a folder on my phone called “camera roll.” Which part of this process needs my email and a password?

“But Phil” you say in your condescending tone that implies I’m a little slow, “if you want access to the apps cloud services, you’ll need an account.”

No. No I don’t. I need to know if I’m this app is worth using and if it is, there are a dozen different more elegant ways to create a system that doesn’t involve me creating an account for an app on my phone.

There’s no excuse for this. There’s a 86% chance I’m only going to use the app once, creating a username and password is a barrier to entry. Even if I like the app, I have no good way to easily save this password into LastPass for future reference which means I’m probably going to have it reset if I ever re-download this app in the future. So why not tie the app to my phone? Why not tie it to my Apple account? Why not have a special identifier on my phone be synced to my iCloud account?

Let me use the app before I have to put all the work into creating an account. It’s bad enough I have to buy apps without having a trial, but now I have to also give out my email and come up with a password. Runkeeper let me try out the app before I created an account, why couldn’t Runtastic do the same thing?

A phone is the most personal computer you will ever use. It’s in your freaking pocket, it doesn’t get much more personal than that! Why are we basing our app design on the most anonymous and distributed system we have ever designed? This doesn’t make sense!


Addendum: I hope my position on creating unnecessary accounts is clear and mostly concise. But I wouldn’t doing my due diligence is I didn’t point out a few things I discovered while researching/writing this little rant.

Frontback has this to say in their FAQ:

Do I need an account to use Frontback?

Yes. Since we are a community based app, we ask that you create an account with us. After doing so, you’ll be able to join our community in viewing and sharing Frontbacks.

Which is fine, but there is no indication of this in the App Store, which feels a little “bait-and-switchy” to me. That said, the order in which they list the app’s features probably should have been a giveaway.

App Features

  • Explore and instantly connect with the Frontback community
  • Capture your best moments using both front and back cameras.

Thanks for clearing that up Frontback. Maybe next time put your app in the “Social Networks” category and not in the “Photo and Video” category.