Archives For iOS

We are on the verge of the release of iOS 9. Some of the new iOS features I like very much are related to viewing web content inside apps. I am not talking so much about apps that are built primarily with web technology, but about apps that link to web pages. For instance when you open a web link inside Twitter for iOS. Back in the days, we would use UIWebview and build our own browser view, which generally was a bad idea. Not only was UIWebView performance subpar, the layout of these custom built web browser screens was always different which confused users.

Why were custom browser views used in the first place?

The main reason why developers build their own in-app browser views, is to not have the user completely leave their app and forget to switch back. This was and still is a legitimate concern. UIWebview would display the web content, but app developers had to build the whole interface around it. Besides a back button to the app, sometimes developers would build a back and forward button for navigating between web pages if users were lucky. You maybe would see the url and see if HTTPS was used, but most of the time not. The biggest drawback would be that UIWebview was running in its own process wit no access to Safari information. So the user had no access to bookmarks or cookies. This meant that credentials that were saved in cookies were not available, requiring users to login again. Overall this rendered a bad user experience.

back button iOS 9

Enter the Back Button with iOS 9

With iOS 9, the operating system is smart enough to remember what app you used before you switched to another app. So if your iOS app opens a web url, Safari is opened with a back button. In the left hand top corner a small button is added, with the title Back to <AppName>. So a user can view the web page, do everything she does normally inside of a browser like navigating back-forward, bookmark etcetera. And when the user is done, she can just tap the back button and go back to your app. This is similar to the back button in Android, that has been there for a while and is available on operating system level. And with better and faster app switching it is no nuisance anymore to switch between apps.

SFSafariViewController for a little more customization

For developers that want a little bit more control there is the SFSafariViewController. With this class you can create a web view that looks and works 95 % like Safari. It is the responsibility of the developer to show and hide the view. But after that, it is Safari. So URL is visible, bookmarking functionality is there. Cookies are available.

Better web browsing user experience with iOS 9

I love the new features in iOS 9. Hopefully lots of developers will start using these features and ditch custom UIWebview based browsing.

Quip is apparently ready to switch over:

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?

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.

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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…

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.

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It’s the week of the Facebook IPO, and a lot of talk in the Facebook roadshow is about its mobile strategy. Out of the 900 million monthly active users, 500 million use Facebook on mobile. Mobile is booming and will so the next few years as these numbers are showing, so rightfully so a lot of attention goes to mobile.

On the iPhone in 2008/9, before the iPad was out, the first version of the Facebook app was seen as one of the great examples how to build an iPhone app. It was developed by one person, Joe Hewitt, and parts of the app were open sourced as the Three20 project. When he left Facebook and stopped working on the iOS app, a new team took over which resulted in a complete rewrite for a universal app that also supported the iPad (November 2011). In spite of growing numbers, not a whole lot of users actually like the current iOS app. In the US iTunes store, the rating average is 2 stars, with out the 21,803 ratings, 11,839 1 star ratings (!). One star ratings are often a sign of frustration, and you can see that in the comments. For most of the apps an average of 2 stars is deadly, but we all use Facebook so yes we will all have to use its iOS app if you own an iPhone or iPad.

So what is wrong with the iOS app?

  1. app is slow 
  2. inconsistent information notification icons say there are new messages or responses, actual window does not show anything new.
  3. app is slower than mobile web site while everybody is used to speedy apps, the Facebook mobile web site is faster than iOS app, and offers almost the same functionality.
  4. tons of other bugs scrambled views, photo upload, text boxes disappear, no sharing.

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Just in case anybody still thought just a great iOS or Android app would get you tons of downloads and lots of money: no it won’t. If you want success for your app, you need to market it and that will cost money.

As this nice infographic from Apppromo.com shows, top earners spend an average of 14% on marketing and have an average marketing budget of $30,000 dollars. Yes, that means it is really hard to make money if you are a small team with no cash in the bank. But with so many apps out there and the iTunes and Play store not really facilitating discovery, you need to get your customers attention somewhere else.

So how can you do app marketing?

 

 

Edit 1: also very interesting thread on Hackernews about a story written on Ars Technical about this infographic.

 

I got some annoying app requests on Facebook from this one app. They came via friends that I know click on too many apps and games, so I ignored them. Yesterday I saw a post about this very app called Syn on the Dutch iPhoneclub, where it was deemed a spam app. Worse, somehow it had made it to the number one position in the paid top 10 of all apps, in spite of an average rating of 1 star (!). My first reaction was that the company behind the app, Falkor, inc must have hired some shady firm to boost downloads to get that high in the ranking. But so many people complained about spam, I thought let’s dig deeper and do some research.

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Burstly just announced that they have acquired TestFlight. Congrats on both, it shows how mature the mobile market is becoming. Besides the acquisition they also announced TestFlight Live, a product to see how your app is performing once it has been published.

I think this is a step away of what they have been doing until now, which was all focused on the phase before launching. Also it is a crowded space: there are already mobile analytics companies like Flurry and app download companies like Distimo and Mobapp.

Meanwhile, we at Mobtest.com keep on focusing on our mission: to build a great marketplace where mobile developers can find testers. Developers need feedback on their apps before they push them out in the app stores. They need to get high ratings to do their marketing in the app stores and get interested users to actually download their app.

We are looking for beta testers of our own service, so sign up at mobtest.com to get an invite. First batch is 50 testers, so sign up quickly!

I had this blog post drafted already, and originally had it titled “iTunes App Store sucks, and Apple doesn’t give a shit”. Well, after the acquisition of Chomp Apple shows it knows. Finally!

To be more precise, I think that app discovery in the app store sucks, and this hurts both users and developers.

Right now, the only ways users find apps are through New, What’s Hot or the top 25 of a category. With almost  600,000 apps,  that is basically an Office Depot with aisles that are 50 miles long. You look at the top 25, but that’s it.  App search is just really bad. Genius? Anybody ever used Genius more than once? Genius is a joke like Ping is. Apparently, Apple is just not good at social.

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