The Grades 2 beta is finally out. Woohooo! In this episode we talk about an event with Ken Yarmosh, a cool site called Forrst, and our beta testing set up, including how to use TestFlight to take a ton of pain out of the beta testing process.
Archive for the ‘iPhone App Development’ Category
Here’s episode 4 of “An App Story.” This time we talk about how and why we are using the iAd model rather than the $1 model we used for Grades 1.0.
Mentioned in the video:
- TapTapTap – Camera+ sells a million copies and earns a million dollars (and some musings/rantings on the mobile industry)
- Review for iPhone (preview Photoshop mockups on your device)
By the way, we have a YouTube Channel you can follow.
Since the second coming of Steve, Apple has transformed from a nearly bankrupt, despised underdog to the biggest digital technology company this side of the Milky Way Galaxy. On this occasion of Apple’s passing up Microsoft in market valuation, I would like to write a series of blog posts detailing some of the lessons we can learn from Apple’s success. I will detail 14 lessons grouped into 3 blog posts, organized by topic. Some cover marketing; some, design; others, dealing with competition. Together, they give a comprehensive picture of how to run a tech company.
My intention is not to focus on imitating Apple in the specifics: I won’t suggest you make all your products white, name your company after a fruit, or put a lowercase i in front of everything. Rather, I aim to distill the lessons of Apple’s success from the specifics of its history, to abstract the principals from what Apple has done so we all can benefit.
This first post focuses on Apple-tips on product design.
#1 Build a product that allows consumers to meet their goals. In his book, About Face, Allen Cooper exhorts designers to do goal-directed design, rather than task-directed or feature-directed design. Design a product that better facilitates users meeting their goals. Apple does this. Many times it left out features that were neat, or even “necessary,” arousing the wrath of the geeks; but they did it in order to better allow users to meet their goals. The designers and evangelists of Android are feature-focused, rather than life-focused or goal-focused. This gives Apple a design advantage.
#2 Create products that cater to “juicy” markets. First, use goal-oriented design. And then find goals that are as universal as possible. Certainly there is a place for “niche-products.” But part of Apple’s success has been in focusing on products usable by everybody. iPhones, iPods, and now iPads have made apple hundreds of millions. Why? Because whether you’re a highschool student, doctor, janitor, or secret agent you could use an iPhone. Apple focuses on meeting common goals (e.g. browsing the internet, sorting photos, email, reading books, listening to music) rather than specialized goals. The bigger and juicer the market is, the more money is to be made. Some PC-users complain that one flaw that Macs have is their non-customizability. But Apple doesn’t care, because most people don’t care about customizability. Better to please millions of average people than a small, crowd of computer engineers. It’s no mistake that Apple’s slogan at one point was “a computer for the rest of us.” You can be a successful niche company. But you might consider the wisdom in designing “for the rest of us” because “the rest of us” have most of the money.
#3 Say no, do less, do it better, and don’t make products that are a grab-bag of features. This goes along with the above two rules. In Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals encourage us to “say no”—say no to neat ideas, neat features, or even features demanded by consumers. Say no when such features might bog down the product and make it more difficult for users to meet their goals. Apple products have often gained notoriety for their simplicity and lack of some “essential” features. Some balked at the original iPod because it lacked things other players had, such as an FM radio. But it didn’t matter. Be better by doing less.
#4 Be artistic. Steve Jobs has often stated that those working at Apple are artists. This doesn’t mean you should create products that are frilly. Rather, it means: create products that are elegant, delightful, that please the user on both the visceral, behavioral, and contemplative levels. Go beyond simply meeting utilitarian goals. This will make your product remarkable. It will make it a “purple cow” (more on this in a later post). It will make it stand out, above the competition. And this will allow you to build a strong brand.
#5 Be more concerned about being the best, than being the first. The MP3 player was patented in 1981 and first released to the public in 1996. The iPod was launched in 2001. But that hasn’t hurt the iPod’s success: to this date 260,000,000 iPods have sold; and the word “iPod” is to “MP3 player” as “Kleenex” is to “tissue.” The iPhone has surpassed all expectations, selling over 50,000,000 units. It was released in 2007 even though cellphones had been around since the ’80s. In the early 2000s Microsoft released its late and unlamented tablet PC line which failed. But today iPads, Apple’s take on the tablet, are selling literally as quickly as they can make them. So don’t be in a rush. Just get it done right.
If you can’t beat ‘em, interview ‘em. So the AppStar winners were announced a few days ago. Though Grades wasn’t among them, the next best thing is to learn from the winners. So I got the privilege to talk to the Tapmates, Robin Razka and Petr Reichl. They just launched their first app, Cookmate, which took first place in the Entertainment category in the AppStar Awards.
I feel Tapmates is an ideal team: a designer + a programmer. Who are you guys, how did you get together, and what have been the benefits and challenges of working as a small team in contrast to, say, a one-man show?
Robin: At the beginning, I’d like to say we do no marketing at all. I believe that the best PR is product itself, so we are trying to answer any question and that’s what people like. I’ve met Petr at one of the Czech portals, we understand each other perfectly and working with him just leads to success. Personally I don’t believe that one man can do all things at the best.
Peter: I create iPhone apps for about two years – it’s fascinating platform. When I met Robin, I was literally amazed by his work. Thus when he mentioned, that he wants to go iPhone – I knew that our cooperation can deliver interesting apps. Hopefully it’s true Advantage, I see in our cooperation, is different look at the problem. Things – you would never realize in “one-man show”.
I think fun, usable design is a key ingredient in the iPhone app formula. You obviously spent a great deal of time designing not only the app but the promotion website, the icon, etc. What is the toughest part of designing iPhone apps and why do you think good design is important?
Robin: Totally agreed. By myself, I see the most important properly is very good idea, well designed features and functions. This must work perfectly. Then fit it into nice look and feel and you app is ready for world-wide success.
When designing UI for Cookmate, it was all about cooperation among Peter and me, together with essential feedback from our testers. I had to learn basics of ObjC to quickly fix details and save Petr’s time. I am detailist. Maybe I surprise you, but first mockups were done in just an afternoon. Web was done next day. Idea was clear, inspiration enough. I was suprised how smooth it went.
Petr: I am convinced that good looking and useful UI is the key ingredience to make people love it. It’s not just iPhone specifically, but it plays here main role. Robin is UI perfectionist and that was very important during Cookmate development. We’ve been constantly changing and playing with various details, however I can say I am happy that we’ve invested this amounts of time into it.
What was the toughest part of developing Cookmate?
Robin: The hardest was to figure out, what we really want. At the beginning it was only thought “Let’s make an app, which tells you what to cook regarding to what’s in your storage.”. Then we took it and continue working with the thought. At the end of the of development, we finally knew how it’s gonna work.
Petr: The hardest was to keep the simplicity of whole app. We had many ideas and more the app does, more complicated it is. I see this the most important thing in the future. Keep it simple and useful together.
What are the ways you have generated pre-launch buzz for Cookmate. What has worked, what hasn’t?
Robin: There are two options how to generate prelaunch buz – You are lucky enough or already famous and then you just tweet, you are launching new iPhone app and everybody starts writing about it. We were just lucky, we’ve won App Star Awards 2009 and that kicked off our promotion. We couldn’t have better start. Also I think – Cookmate is exactly that type of application, which can does best PR by itself. I would skip e-mails to journalists, spamming discussions etc.
Petr: I am idealistically convinced, when the app is good – it finds it’s own way. Still you must be lucky – which we had in App Star Awards 2009. Hopefully this win helps to spread the word about the app and people find out, it’s the app they were looking for.
Congratulations on winning the App Star Awards with your first app, Cookmate! What is it about Cookmate that you think makes it stand out among so many other great iPhone apps? Any tips on crafting a winning promo video?
Robin: Thank you! I liked your video as well! Cookmate has great programmer and we have good ideas, we can achieve and reflect them in app. You can expect nice tweaks in next version. The video was done in Final Cut. Recipe was: simple concept, ready story and great tools – SimFinger by Loren Brichter is magical thing.
Robin: We were lucky, that Apple accepted our app the same day the winners were announced.
Petr: I think it had big impact. It’s very hard to identify good app in App Store nowadays. I can’t predict what’s coming, but I was really happy, that we are TOP #1 in Czech App Store – although it’s small market, but it’s nice reward.
Tell us about the launch. Any lessons learned?
Robin: We’ve found out that Twitter is now better channel for communication with users than Facebook, where we have only few people, mostly our friends. The most interesting markets are US, Australia, UK, Canada and then Germany, France and Italy. The rest is not so important as few downloads make your app top.
Petr: We were betting on Facebook and Twitter at launch. Unfortunately I have to say that Facebook didn’t go so well, we can’t use it’s potencial. We have to figure out this – I still think that Facebook is ideal for iPhone apps promo.
What are your plans for Cookmate going forward? How are you planning to generate sustained sales and exposure?
Robin: We already are working on update for almost a week, which will introduce new features and new recipe packs.
Petr: The update will also include feedback and new ideas from users and we’d like to satisfy them. I believe that app like Cookmate has big potencial and it’s important to aim taste of majority as you can’t satisfy everyone.
Big thanks to Robin and Petr for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for them, feel free to respond in the comments.
Apple’s static analysis seems to be rejecting apps that use Apple’s own backward compatibility techniques. Here’s hoping Apple will fix this soon.