Creepy Scopes and Ghoulish Lacklications

by Brian Katz on June 11, 2012 · 2 comments

My friend Benjamin Robbins (@paladorbenjamin) wrote a recent post on ‘Lacklications’. He was responding to my recent call on twitter asking people for nominations of crapplications. It’s fair to start this post off reminding people what crapplications are. While there are certainly crapplications on the desktop, let’s define what one is in the mobile arena. These are the apps that we all hate to use. We downloaded them for one specific function and discovered quite quickly that they were dreadful to use.

Maybe you had too much stuff in the app because everyone wanted to get one more function in. We call that scope creep. You wanted a simple timer and the app developer threw in a Rube Goldberg contraption with 40 functions and if you did things in the right order you ended up being able to actually time something. You could also slice bread with the app but that wasn’t what you bought it for. Another type of crapplication is the one where you can’t figure out how to use it. It has such a bad user interface (UI) that you can’t figure out which button to press and in what order. It’s not intuitive, just unusable. Why does it take 16 clicks to get the timer to start? The last type of crapplication is the one with the bad user experience (UX). You thought you set the timer to go off in two minutes and you even figured out how to set it. Then the fire trucks showed up right before the timer went off at two hours because the egg you were cooking set the kitchen on fire…

Most apps don’t start off as crapplications, not to say that there aren’t exceptions to the rule. The most common type of exception is when the request is to take an app designed to be used on desktop with a mouse and keyboard gets translated to a tablet or phone app. Although the mouse clicks may be translated into touch actions, between the screen size and the three thousand functions available the app just doesn’t have a great UX. You see a lot of these with VDI and SBC based apps that are just legacy apps with a new UI based on touch.

Now that we have defined crapplications, lets take a look at what Ben wants. He wants to rid the world of lacklications. These are mobile apps that lack what he refers to as ‘functional protein’. They need beefing up because they are missing too many features. Now let’s be fair, there are those apps that in version 1 of the app are missing some pieces that we would all like to see. The problem with this approach is that it very quickly escalates from one or two missing functions to a whole slew of functions. It doesn’t take long for this escalation to turn into a crapplication.

The question becomes how do you wisely add a few functions without suffering from scope creep and ending up with a steaming pile of future cow chips? There are two factors to consider when pondering adding a function. The first is simple, have you focused on what the user is actually doing and needs to do. This is very different from necessarily the chorus of people who claim to want everything. What are they actually doing while they are in the field? Their field may be the sales call, the operating room, the clinic, the lab or even the manufacturing floor. Do they need that piece of functionality and will it make them more productive and efficient. If the answer is yes you have to figure out whether to add it to the existing app or to create a new app that can act on the required data. The second thing to look at when adding a function is the 80/20 rule. If less then 20% of the people will use a function it probably doesn’t deserve a place in the app.

Ben very wisely suggests Track Changes is one of those features that would be great to add. I can’t disagree with him on this one, most enterprises use this feature all the time and if it can be implemented well and the final product still integrates with office than that’s terrific. On the other hand I heard someone ask recently for formula builder for these office type suites. The issue with formula builder is that except for a small minority of people it is quite useless for everyone else. It very simply fails the 80/20 rule. The beauty of these types of features is they can turn into great opportunities for another app that can act on the same data. You find your target group for the new app and determine whether it makes sense to develop an entire app for them.

Ben hits the nail on the head that Mobile does give enterprises a real opportunity, or as he referred to it, a reset button for their approach. I have referred to this many times as integrating mobile strategy into your entire strategy and understanding what mobile first means. He is coming from the wrong direction when he coins the word lacklications, but a lot of that is due to his current mobile only approach, which I applaud loudly (more should try this for at least a day if not a week), as he used his phone as a desktop, hooked up to a keyboard, mouse and monitor, and this is where it becomes easier to miss those functional lacks that many mobile apps don’t have. The problem with lacklications is that in most cases they lead to crapplications

There is good news about all these crapplications, they are inspiring people to write much better apps to corwd the crapplications out and people are flocking to them. It’s only so long that you can keep giving yourself a headache. As the saying goes, “Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer, because it feels so good when it stops”. The Consumerization of IT is about stopping the hammer.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Benjamin Robbins June 11, 2012 at 10:32 am

Brian – Your points are spot-on. My experience in going mobile-only makes ‘Lacklications’ more of a unique momentary problem. A good way to describe it is – Lacklications are a temporary setback, while Crapplications are forever! Who’s ever heard of a piece of functionality being removed from an app? The only thing I ever hear that is deprecated from an app is API calls – which usually only leads to broken integration functionality(and thus crap)!

I think that app vendors feel like they need to constantly add functionality to an app to provide ‘value’ when all they are potentially doing is taking something good and making it muddled. I think you are correct that it doesn’t take much to make the jump from one to another (like wind to wild-fire) As you suggest, the 80/20 rule is a great guide – I wonder if it will get applied better in the realm of mobility. Here’s to hoping! 🙂


Simon Crosby June 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Great post, needs @reillyusa to opine based on his current experiences


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