Android Facebook errorFor months your team have been slaving away on your iOS or Android app. Burned the midnight oil to find the last bugs and fix them, polished the interface. Made sure you followed the Apple iOS Human Interface Guidelines or Android Core App Quality Guidelines. Now you ask yourself, is our app mature enough to launch? Will your hard work pay off or will it be a botched launch?

But first, why is the launch of an app an important moment?

  1. You may up in the Best New Apps list (Apple iTunes Store) or New Releases (Google Play), if you are new
  2. Apple or Google may feature you. They only do this with new apps.
  3. News sites and blogs are only interested in new apps. Your PR campaign should be concentrated around your app launch. When you reach out to authors they will only write about your app if it is of high quality.
  4. For iOS, posting bug fixes will take a week at least which is enough time to tank your users’ experiences and therefore ratings.

As an industry, we are pretty bad in engaging new users. We lose 22 % of users after just one time using an app, and beyond 11 times we have lost 66 %. As user acquisition costs are rising, it is easier and cheaper to convert a one time user to an engaged user.

So what matters should you look at?

  1. Does your app icon entice the user to open the app? Make sure your icon appeals and stands out, and gets the user interested to open up your app for the first time Your app name should explain what the app does.
  2. Do you have a smooth onboarding process? Your first screens should explain already what problem the app solves or what needs it fulfills. Make sure a user can understand or learn in 30 seconds what the main use case is and how it works. If needed, a good walkthrough may help, but first try with the app itself.
  3. Does your app provide value in a few minutes? So make sure your app helps solve that problem, or fulfill that need. That first time should already provide value or make it clear how it will provide value.
  4. Does the app provide a pleasant and engaging experience? Create an interface that is clear and responds snappy, test the app for bugs that may crash it. Beef up your backend to be able to handle massive download spikes because of raving posts on major sites
  5. Will the user come back? Create a reason for the user to return to the app, either because he/she remembers or you trigger this with a subtle and valuable push notification (don’t spam your users!). Try to have something habit forming built in that will get the user to come back on a daily basis.

Well, to make sure you meet these requirements, test well before launch. With the right testing, experimenting and of course PR and marketing it is definitely possible to create an engaging app that will attract *and* capture users.

What other issues do you think are important to look at?

Last week Amazon announced the availability of app engament metrics for Android apps published in their app store. Finally, I thought! The mobile industry has been focused solely on app downloads and personally I think that is the wrong metric. It is quite easy to get somebody to download an app. Great marketing, news/blog posts and incentivised downloads in combination with easy installs make it simple to get lots of downloads. However this study by Localytics show 24 % of users try out a downloaded app only once. That is a massive churn, which is a pity. You can’t provide value to users that have your app installed but don’t use it. For that you need engagement. So now Android developers with apps in the Amazon store can see daily user sessions, app retention and daily active devices. This gives app developers a much better idea how much value they provide.

The next step would be to use app engagement for top 25’s ranking. One reason why everybody has been focused so much on downloads is that they have a big impact on ranking for various stores, in particular Apple’s iTunes App Store. As app downloads are too easy to fake a lot of companies resorted to playing the system in various ways, instead of focusing on a great product for a great market with a huge need.

I liked the announcement a few weeks back from Google about referral tracking for Google Play Store, letting you know where your installs come from. Combined with Amazon’s announcement about engagement metrics I see two long awaited functionalities made available for app stores. Hopefully the two main app stores, Apple’s iTunes and Google Play will start adopting both soon and compete more for the hearths, minds and wallets of developers.

 

Facebook HomeYesterday’s announcement of Facebook Home means that for the first time a mainstream service has a better offering on Android than on iPhone, partly due to restrictions of the iOS platform itself. Facebook Home for Android updates your home screen with status updates and photos, shows profile pictures of your friends on top of other applications with the new Chat Heads messaging functionality, integrates text/SMS messaging with Facebook, which is all not possible with iOS. On top of that, Facebook has spent a lot of time making sure all interactions are absolutely astonishing, with new interaction patterns and a new physics engine. So this is really the first main stream service that has a much better and more powerful app on Android than on iOS.

Of course, this will not be for everybody. With the new Chat Heads, Facebook is clearly trying to keep other competing messaging services like WhatsAppMessageMe and SnapChat at bay. These services are mostly used by teens. Getting status updates on your home screen and even your lock screen has a huge impact on privacy and more serious business oriented users will not like this. Also, out of the box only 5 phones will be supported (HTC One, HTC One X/X+, HTC First, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S 4, and Samsung Galaxy Note II). This is probably because of hardware/OS requirements but also rigorous testing required to make sure all works fine. A crashing home screen of course needs to work flawless, otherwise users will uninstall within minutes. Your Android phone will become dominated by Facebook, and not everybody will like that. Hopefully Facebook keeps it as user experience focussed as possible and will not become the new toolbar as on the Windows platform.

So what does is mean for other companies? Google will be less visible within Android with Home, no search anymore on the home screen. No support announced for the Nexus 4 was remarkable, but as Facebook Home will be downloadable via Google Play store Google is aware and letting Facebook put it out there. Still users need to sign up with Google for a Google account, and Google can still gather all information it does normally. In the future FB might include it’s investor Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Bing Maps. Android has not been altered for this, although HTC admitted that they made some chances to Android to allow notifications to be shown in a more prominent way. For Apple, this means that the number one consumer service world wide will have a better presence on a competing platform, because of Apple’s own choices. Apple chooses to remain closed, keeping control over apps in a strict way. Yes that means less malware and crap apps, but also stops 3rd party developers from pushing the platform further. As we move to more constant monitoring and more push from apps from the current situation where interaction with your mobile phone is initiated by the user, background processing will prove to be vital. Apple not allowing this will be a big hurdle for companies to innovate on iOS.

I am curious to see what is does for app distribution. Facebook Home also has an app launcher, which is remarkable because the Android app launcher itself is great and Facebook for now does not all a lot of value. The value it has right now is that it is integral part of Facebook Home so you don’t need to switch a few taps forward to the Android launcher. This FB launcher offers great possibilities for the future, making FB a prime app marketing channel.

I am really excited about the new functionalities and interaction patterns, Facebook is pushing the envelope with what is possible for mobile. What do you think? Will you install Facebook Home on your Android phone?

Embedded down below you will find the deck from my presentation yesterday titled Human Testing iOS Apps presentation at the Renaissance the iOS app makers’ conference during the session about quality. I talked about manual QA testing, but also about various forms of user testing, including concept testing, usability testing, beta testing and live testing. It was a great conference over all, looking forward to the next one!

Also look at the Mobtest Renaissance Github repository, where various documents about testing and background information is provided.

Lazy GuyOK, I had this post written already a couple of times, evaluating HTML5 tech versus native technology for mobile apps. Dealing with clients developing mobile apps puts me regularly in the position that I have to help out choosing between the two. A very concise but long post, written as a consultant so that any company that was facing this decision could figure out what is best for them. But in the end it boils down to this:

 

Native technology allows for excellent apps, whereas HTML5 apps will be at best just OK

Just look at the top 25’s of any category in the Apple iTunes store or the Google Play store. Most if not all apps are built using native technology. Yes, you can build crappy apps with native also, that is not hard thing to do. Excellent HTML developers can get pretty close to native with their hybrid apps, look at the LinkedIn iOS app. But still, you can see the interface is not as fast and snappy as for instance Path or the new Facebook iOS app. Fact is, users now know you can build excellent apps for mobile so will expect this from any app.

Continue Reading…

The tech news sites are all over the new Google Maps for iOS app, so they already cover the fact that public transportation, walking directions and turn-by-turn navigation are included in the new app. I thought let’s look at new technologies and user experience elements in this app.

Google Maps 3d view

Fast 3d maps but no offline access

The maps, including 3D versions are fast! OpenGL is used, and runs pretty fast on my now ancient iPhone 4. They even support iPhone 3Gs with iOS 5.1, so they really did a terrific job on optimizing speed. Apple Maps for iOS requires an iPhone 4S for 3D views, also satellite 3D views. Offline access would be great to have when you drive through areas with no cell phone reception. No iPad version as well, no voice input.

Continue Reading…

The Lean Startup methodology has really caught on over the last few years. Key elements of it are experimentation, iterative development, and incorporating customer validation as early as possible. The term Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is often used to describe the first product that is released to test the market.

Now, originally Lean Startup was developed by Eric Ries while working on web products. Web sites can easily be shielded from non-invited users (for private betas) or you can put a beta label on it and users will understand it will be limited. You can instantly deploy new versions and there are lots of tools for all kinds of testing available. For A/B testing there are tools like Optimize.ly, Google analytics for statistics or user feedback via GetSatisfaction or UserVoice.

However, native mobile development has some characteristics that make it hard to apply the Lean Startup methodology: Continue Reading…

Apple's developer portal

Apple’s developer portal

When you as a iOS developer want to send out beta versions to testers, you need to create a build of your app with an ad hoc profile that contains the UDID’s from all the devices of your testers. Not only is that a painful process, you are also limited to 100 devices. That is, a 100 devices per developer license per year. When the iPhone 3 was released that was OK, but now it is becoming a major hurdle to do testing. It is time for Apple to change this policy. Here’s why:

  1. fragmentation – now you have the iPhone 4, 4S and 5 as well as the iPad 2, 3, 4 and iPad Mini. Don’t forget iPod Touch 4 and 5. Also iOS 5 is still around (not for iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad Mini or iPod Touch 5), so times 2 major iOS versions = 14 different devices.
  2. developers create more apps per year - imagine a company that publishes 10 apps per year, for 10 different demographics. That 100 device limitation is for that one publisher, meaning you can have max 10 testers per demographic.
  3. quality standards have gone up – There are 700,000 iOS apps out there. Only the best that get in a top 25 make money. High quality is required, so developers have to test thoroughly.

What could Apple do? Continue Reading…

ipad mini

So why did Apple suddenly come up with the iPad Mini, even after Steve Jobs public denouncements of the 7 inch class of tablets? It fits different use cases. Ten inch tablets like the iPad are just too big for a number of them. Operating an iPad for longer time without support of a table or your lap (on the couch, in bed) is hard. You cannot grasp the whole device with one hand. With 7 inch tablets like the Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire and now the iPad Mini, you can. Imagine being a doctor, checking up on your patients while making your round through the hospital? Much easier. It will even fit in your doctor’s lab coat pocket. Seating guests in your restaurant or writing names and phone numbers down for your waiting list? A breez. Demoing at conventions, or writing down email addresses of interested people? No more need for an iPad grip, just one hand. I bet you that businesses will love the iPad Mini for data entry much more than the normal iPad, that shines at media consumption at home. And the fact that Google/Asus and Amazon and have had some first well selling tablets in this category, highlighted by the Nexus 7 trashing by Schiller, indicates that Apple couldn’t stay behind and had to come with an iPad version in the 7 inch category.

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Finally, Facebook has released an update of their iOS app. Whereas older versions used HTML technology in combination with UIWebViews, the new version as it looks now is (almost) fully developed in native iOS technology, Objective-C. As I have written in the past, it is hard to get a well performing app using the hybrid approach of native and web. The UIWebView is not as fast as when it runs inside of mobile Safari because the Javascript engine Nitro is not available for 3rd party apps, and it doesn’t seem to be so in the new upcoming iOS 6.

My testing by network sniffing confirms that no more HTML is returned from the Facebook servers but JSON, the preferred format when using REST technology. JSON just gives you the data, formatting needs to be done by the code inside of the app. Most iOS apps that retrieve server data use JSON technology, so that was a no-brainer. According to their development blog post, many more different optimisations were implemented, including offloading actions to background threads (iOS 101), caching of computations how long text should be displayed, caching of heights of rows in the UITableView. Most of the app is native now. Still some lesser used parts are leveraging HTML technology, to allow for flexibility.

Continue Reading…