Playing Devil’s Advocate..

Ok, I am getting into the “heavy design” stuff, Extreme Agenda 4.0 will be a big step in this direction. And as of yet I have not proven that most of my design heavy apps are over the top great. Well, PokerTimer is the most popular Poker Clock in the AppStore(I did that original minimalist design a few years ago). And ‘The Grid’ did get 120K downloads in 3 days last week…. And the original XA 1.0 was pretty crazy experiment into alternate design. But by no means do I label myself as even ‘good’ yet, I’m learning like everyone else, this whole design focus is relatively new.

And I like to discuss development and all of this stuff with other developers. But recently I was left out of a Branch.com group of App-Makers because I wasn’t known/big enough, which actually includes a lot of people with less popular apps or no apps at all, because they are considered “influencers’. It so far has left out quite a few of the developers that have a different take on the AppStore, the ones I’d like to hear from. So I figured I might get back into posting some opinions here…

The most recent post of the branch.com App-Makers is about App Ideas. And granted quite a few in this group have had 1 or maybe 2 really good ones… But so far the direction of the conversation has gone in the direction of high design, one basic idea, simplicity and good UI. Makes sense…and we as developers have all heard it so many times before. That is what is working in the AppStore right now. But let’s examine this.

This is a response from Ellis Hamburger, a journalist at “The Verge”, so an Influencer:

“Any time I review an app, I compare it to the baseline in the category. When I reviewed Fantastical for iPhone I compared it to apps like Calvetica, Week Calendar, and Agenda. Not only did I find that Fantastical had a better feature set, but it also delivered a smoother user experience. The calendar app category has been around for YEARS, and Fantastical had years to prepare to win. Ultimately as a developer you must aspire to be the best in your category, which often means looking to competing apps and making sure you can outdo them from the get-go — and *don’t launch your app until you meet those goals* since any category only has a few real winners. If you can deliver, then you’ve got a “good idea.” You have your work cut out for you.”

Side Note:coincidentally those are the exact 3 apps I was shooting at with ‘The Grid’ too, that came out at the same time and was overshadowed by Fantastical.

So, yeah, he likes Fantastical. But now dissect Fantastical.

Really, the App is two views, both beautifully done. But both not always practical in everyday use. Take Fantastical and try to check out what you have going on in October. Yeah, you can’t get directly to October. How about October 2015? And yeah, once you get there they just use the standard ‘colored dots’ to show you an overview of the month. Know what they are? Have 5 events on a day, sorry we only made room for 4 dots. And dont even think about trying to see October in the week/list hybrid view.

Now re-create a commonly used event, move an event to another day, hide events in the calendar you don’t want to see…

Their other big feature is natural language event entry. And unless you are a speed typer on your iPhone, having to type in events in real language is neat, but isn’t the most practical (to do certain things you have to have shortcut formats memorized). And a small hint: you can use Siri to do it with Voice for all iCal based Apps. It’s genius on a desktop, which is where the idea came from. Want to edit events the regular way, well another secret you wouldn’t know, they just used an SDK call to Apple’s exact same event view, but put their pretty title bar on it.

Is that fully designed?

So I give Ellis the fact that besides ‘Week Calendar’, which blows Fantastical out of the water feature wise, the other calendars mentioned are lacking in areas as well. But they also are priced lower. So what made him overlook this and believe it was ahead was the “Smoother user experience”. Pretty design and a couple neat new takes on features seem to make you not fully examine an app’s long term use?

Or Clear is another often used example. Clear did some amazing things with gesture based list interaction. It tried something different and was rewarded for it. But they also went overboard, and did stuff that doesn’t and won’t ever feel natural in order to stick with their paradigm. And Clear offered very few “standard list” features, things that you just expect to be there to make it really handy and usable. You have to dumb down how you use lists in order to stay ‘in love’ with using it, all for the sake of good design and this trend of less features.

These are both widely considered what are the ‘top bar’ of what iOS apps should be and are crazy successful, though I will contend with a lot of help from the media and Apple(different can of worms). But they know how to play the game, and obviously put a lot of thought and design into making the Apps…

They are just not my kind of apps, they leave out key features because they don’t work for their ‘design’. Maybe its a function of the fact that for the price apps are now they are throwaway, so you can be wowed by the new calendar’s slick ideas, and dump it 3 weeks later realizing you originally agreed with the reviews, but now see the holes in it…

It’s convenient to use this less is more excuse, isn’t that what Apple does, but yet we are all also clammering for a revamp and more functionality from iOS7 from Apple…WIDGETS WIDGETS WIDGETS. And just think what we could all do if Apple opened up even more development flexibility. That might stifle simplicity.

Some of the best apps out there don’t all fit into a simple “Elevator Pitch” and depend on a glossy icon. The ones that do sure are easier to maintain though… 🙂

So it makes me wonder. Are we just at a time where we’re tearing it down to build it back up, making cheap apps what cheap apps should be. As one developer said, these *great* app ideas “reset the baseline”, but it seems some are doing so with inferior apps. Will these apps grow up or be passed in the mainstream by a higher level of app.

Will the vasty majority of users mature over time, to want well designed apps with great user experience, but with FULL MATURE FEATURE SETS…

Im shooting for maturity with great design, and I could name a bunch of great apps that already do too, I just hope the ‘bar’ can move up…

Branch App-Makers Thread

UPDATE: Well, it appears Branch pivoted, which made their site way simpler and less usable, but also does away with the group/clique thing that had irked me. It is just as well, the ‘moderator’ that had created the clique had dropped the ball and not kept it active, something that having more members would probably have helped. I recently noticed a post he made about how his original app, that one a design award, was outsold by his new app. He is one of the design and simplicity guys I talk about. I don’t get how he never realized that his first application was only half an idea, and had he actually created a full application with his award winning design abilities in the first place it would have sold a lot better, instead another product took all of those sales and more and does extremely well. Luckily he did better on his second product, but not realizing this makes me wonder about having him be a speaker and an ‘influencer’ in our market. And using the simple thing as an excuse failed ….