Disappearing Apps

by Brian Katz on October 16, 2012 · 3 comments

We spend a lot of time talking about devices these days. Have you seen the new iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S III, or how about that new one, what is it, the one with that really awesome camera. We think that the latest, newest, sexiest device will win the smartphone war and the enterprise will have to support it. For people like me, who are unabashed gadget nutters, we do care when that next device will roll out. The rest of the world isn’t even thinking about that, they’re too busy using their device, and the currency that defines what that device is, is the app.

As much as we like to think that people switch from Apple to Android or vice-versa, most of the time you end up locked in to whichever platform you’re on due to the apps that you have. You’ve built your own personal ecosystem on your device, which is your playground. It’s where you get things done. The enterprise is trying to do that same thing by creating a new app ecosystem for you to play in. There hope is that this will allow you to get your work done while at the same time keeping the business’s information safe.

Too often, the business tries to build their ecosystem based upon the existing apps on the desktop. They don’t spend the time focusing on the user’s needs and learning how to help them be productive. They look at what they have spent years building and continue to build crapplications that match what was already there. The issue comes to a head very quickly as users can’t stand the fact that they can no longer get their work done easily on the device of their choice. They may be fighting an unwieldy UI, or dealing with a horrible UX, or just be stuck with the same old monolithic desktop crapplication presented through VDI or app streaming. This just doesn’t  work with the modern user who is used to elegantly simple apps that allow them to do what they want.

The user’s first step will be to dig into their own personal ecosystem and try to find an alternative to that crapplication. In the face of unwieldy crapplications, users look for apps that enable them to be productive. They don’t think about security or the data, they just want to be able to do their work when and where they need to. The issue that rises for the enterprise is figuring out how to choose/build apps for their ecosystem that will entice the user to stay within it.

We know there are a bunch of secrets to building a great app versus a crapplication. The first step is to understand the business needs. Then, with a laser like focus, the user’s need is highlighted. The steps that the user needs to perform to get their tasks done are understood and an app is developed to help them meet those requirements. A lot of time is spent on developing a UI that is simple; even more time is spent ensuring a great UX for the user.

There is one piece that is left out almost every time. We think users think about apps but what users really think about is getting their work done. If you ask a user what makes a great app, most of the time they get stuck and are unsure of what to answer at first because a really great app disappears. Users don’t end up thinking about the app they’re using. The UI and the UX is transparent to the work they are trying to do, it just enables them to be productive and get work done. They aren’t spending time reading tutorials or going through training to use their tools. They fire up an app and forget almost immediately what they are using and focus on the work getting done. One can debate that touching the screen helps that, or the immediacy of holding the device closer to the face but the truth of the matter is more simple, when the app disappears and they can get work done, you’ve achieved success in building a great app. In the end, a great app enables the user to be more productive.

It’s like watching a master craftsman at work, they have a tool belt on and they switch between tools while they are doing their job, but how often do they look at their tool belt? They blindly reach in and pull out the right tool for the piece they are doing at the time. They may spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars buying the right tools that fit perfectly in their hands. Each one has just the right balance and precision for the job at hand. If you spend enough time watching, you begin to see the beautiful dance. The tools move over their work effortlessly and become almost one with the master, whether they are a carpenter, a painter, a comic book artist or a coder. The trick to making a great app is to make it become one with the user, it disappears so their work becomes effortless and everyone becomes their own craftsman.

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