What’s App Doc?

by Brian Katz on December 12, 2011 · 4 comments

This is a continuation of my series of posts talking about applications. Last week I gave everyone the definition of a crapplication while today we are going to focus on Apps.

I’ve spent the last few months in multiple conversations with people who have no concept of what an App is. They have embraced the idea of mobility and using tablets and have started to work on building apps for people to use. Or at least that is what they will tell you. By the time they’ve finished their work it is plain fully obvious that they have built another Acme contraption which is supposed to catch the Road Runner but will invariable back fire in their own faces.

In order to build an app instead of a crapplication one has to first understand what an app is. In its most simplest form an app is only a UI (User Interface) that wraps data and allows it to be manipulated. If that UI is built well and provides a great UX (User Experience) then the app will become successful.

The secret to building a good app is to discover what the user wants/needs to do and allow them to accomplish that in the most simplest of steps. What’s important to the user is the data – whether that means visiting a doctor and using an app to show them a presentation to sell a drug, using augmented reality to visualize the gas lines while doing road work, or using a camera app to record a business card and add the person to your contacts. All these apps are UI manipulating a specific subset of data. The reason they have become successful is that they have limited functionality. They were created because someone watched people solve a problem and then figured out what the steps were to automate that process for them.

How many times have you seen an app on the App store that does 100 things, how popular are they? They may be downloaded and used once or twice but then they are removed from the device. They have become crapplications and bloatware that will be consigned to the Acme trash heap as the Road Runner goes zipping by.

How do you know when your app is starting to become a crapplication…just look for the inherent scope creep as the business just wants to add one more function. It worked on a laptop so let’s just translate the entire application to the tablet or the phone. Take a look at your SAP expense system. How many steps does it takes to fill out an expense report, unless I take my shoes off I can’t count that high. Now take a look at an expense app on a smart phone that has a high rating in the app store. You use the camera to snap a photo of the receipt, enter 3 or 4 lines of description, pick a drop down menu description or 2 and click send. It’s a total of 5 steps and it’s done on the spot. Work gets their expenses filed quicker, the user gets reimbursed quicker and quite painlessly.

Let’s look at another simple example. 4 years ago, if you wanted to know the weather without watching the news you did one of 2 things, you either went to a wweb site or turned on the weather channel. Lets say you visited weather.com, you would bookmark the site, accept a cookie so it would remember the zip code of the place you wanted the weather for and then you would see the weather forecast maybe for that day. Then you had to click or scroll a number of times to see the 36 hour forecast or the 10 day forecast, and if you knew where to look you could bring up a doppler radar picture, although that usually meant going to the website of your favorite local news station and another 6 – 10 clicks. I can’t speak for you but even as I am sitting at a computer these days, when my wife asked for the weather forecast I reach for my smartphone. I bring up The Weather Channel app or the AccuWeather app (and if I want hyperlocal I use weatherbug) – I have all my favorite locations available in a swipe, and I have one click to toggle between each of the screens that used to take multiple clicks. So a single swipe brings me to the next favorite and I am done. Oh, don’t forget that it does severe weather warnings, and the map is zoomable easily. These apps were created to manipulate a specific set of data and that’s it. They weren’t designed to give the ski report for specific mountains thrown in, and the ocean dive temps at any time of year etc.

In order to build a successful app once has to start by pruning, not allowing scope creep to find its way in. It is much easier to create an app that does a single task or two instead of designing one that does everything…your users/customers will appreciate it more.

By the way, this entire blog post was written using Apple’s pages on an iPad. It has maybe 5% of the functions of Microsoft Word and yet it made writing this blog post on the plane a pleasure.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Kim December 15, 2011 at 12:04 am

I actually do have an idea for an app and I will make sure it does not turn into a crapplication.

Very nice site, btw… 😉

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Sitaram Shastri December 15, 2011 at 1:30 am

SAP is such a prime example of crapp! Can the reason be that most enterprise apps are developed by inhouse IT staff, rather than pro designers/developers?

In my experience, IT staff focus only on the feature checklist; UX is normally not even an afterthought!

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