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Our Thoughts on the New Google App Ratings Filter

Recently Google quietly released a new feature in the Play Store which was quickly noticed and remarked-upon by many: the ability to sort app search results by rating. The first incarnation of this feature (and one must assume that future updates will allow sorting by specific Star levels) is extremely simple: 2 choices only, “All ratings” and “4+ Stars”. This Android Authority post was one of the first-breaking that we noticed pointing it out, and as they pointed out it is a modest step in the right direction but doesn’t solve for all the challenges, writing, “…this may not catch some new apps with just a handful of reviews, and, second, apps with tons of fake reviews will still go through.” Screenshot 2014-10-20 at 8.40.13 PMIt’s a relevant point that new and low-install apps could be unfairly penalized until they build up a sufficient quantity of ratings, while this BRG article notes that  the feature could also unfairly reward new or low-install apps with a modest number of ratings that happen to skew positive or are being ‘gamed’ by biased ratings (as the stats folks say, until the number of ratings for a given app reaches statistical significance).

These are interesting initial considerations, but for the last couple days we’ve been thinking about the more strategic implications of this move for the Play Store and Android apps overall – now and in the near future. This is Google we’re talking about, after all. 2 years ago (almost to the day), Android Authority ran this post questioning the larger issue at play here: why it was taking so long for Google to apply its deep experience and expertise in information organization, discovery, and qualification to its burgeoning app marketplace. The post not only questioned when Google would start to enable a variety of quality, price, and other app characteristic sorting and filtering, but also wondered when the Play Store content would start to be more prominently featured in organic search results — and how.

We thought we’d take a few moments to comment on this development and build on the rich online conversation that’s been unfolding about the new feature over the past week. Here are a few of our initial considerations as Google starts the process of introducing more flexible options for mobile users to find the right apps in the Play Store for their needs – particularly for app developers, managers, and publishers.

1) Ratings and Reviews Now Matter More Then Ever – Across All Key Platforms

This may seem like an obvious point – but the fact that Google *didn’t* offer this feature until now meant that developers and publishers could effectively hold app user Ratings and Reviews in a lower regard for Android apps than they needed to for iOS apps. As the Google founders themselves showed the world 15 years ago, a search is quite simply the beginning – and therefore the action closest to any person’s process of information discovery – of a decision. Even though the Play Store was gathering and displaying Ratings and Reviews against apps post-search (at least in the Play Store, if not effectively in broader search results), that is not nearly as valuable as enabling this piece of information to qualify the discovery process during the search process. A capability – feature, or logic, or the combination of the two – that an individual user can apply “a priori” in their search experience is a great deal more valuable than a feature that must be applied “ex post”. This is a direct result of the fact that a capability that is applied earlier in any manual discovery process is more valuable than one that is applied later. There are two reasons for this: first, it is more efficient for the individual user; and second, it is more precise as a mechanism for organizing and presenting the inferred results that a given user desires.4173GNCNV3L._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_AA300_

In other words, by elevating the ratings sort capability during the search Google has made it both easier and faster for users to find what they really want. In so doing, Google has basically affirmed for mobile app developers that (a) ratings and reviews really matter – a lot, and, (b) they want to elevate the importance and weight they ascribe to this aspect of any given app on their platform. The implication here is not a small one for mobile app developers and publishers overall – and for Android app managers specifically: app quality, as judged by real app users, is now one of the most important meta-data characteristics of every single app in the Play Store. The downstream implication of this is that every Android app publisher now has an imperative to manage a strategy for ensuring that users consistently (a) see high value in each app they release for Android, and, (b) are encouraged to express their satisfaction with the app value in the form of public ratings and reviews in the Play Store. It’s as if Google has – in one feature-update stroke – said to Android developers and managers, “We now consider high ratings for apps in our marketplace to be a primary user download consideration, and you should too.”

2) Android Apps Are No Longer Allowed to be the “Also-Rans” of a Company’s Mobile Strategy

Whether or not they publicly acknowledge it, there has been an undercurrent of bias among corporate marketers and entertainment media publishers that iOS apps are the clear priority and biggest business opportunity… and that an Android app is either a ‘check the box’ gotta-have or a distant 2nd priority to their iPhone and iPad apps. We fully recognize that this is a gross generalization – there are many publishers who have lead the market with Android-first innovation, and many companies who for several years have looked at their mobile OS usage and business-benefit data and allocated development resources with equal (or proportionally-appropriate) priority for both platforms. However, we don’t think we’re being controversial in stating that Android as a app platform has for too long been considered an under-appreciated second child – never able to live up to the higher expectations and preferred first-born status of iOS. [As a father of three, I'm reminded of the Tikki Tikki Tembo story that I've read my daughters on many an evening.]screen-shot-2013-07-16

And for a while, this was probably a defensible point of view. Research consistently showed that iPhone users were early-tech-adopters and indexed higher than other mobile OS platforms for income and digital media content consumption — all statistics that made mobile marketers salivate, and gave easy-to-repeat statistics that allowed them to defend their iOS-first priorities and justify their disproportionate investment of money and effort towards the Sunnyvale giant’s products and platform.

However, the last several years have forced objective mobile business managers to revisit their biases and revise their marketing and development priorities. The run-away growth of Android in recent years which has made it the definitively dominant mobile OS platform globally, according to IDC (linked), Gartner (chart at right), and others. Increased competition in the U.S. market among both wireless carriers and their smartphone hardware partners has made mobile OS platform switching more commonplace. A good deal is a good deal, and Apple and Google now are in the software *and* hardware game – and Google’s willingness to take a break-even or loss-making deal on their hardware and software in favor of winning their way into consumers pockets has harvested a lot of early-iPhone-adopters. [Some killer hardware innovation by Samsung, HTC, and now Google's previous Motorola hardware unit has earned a lot of new and OS-switching U.S. and European customers also.]

Simply put, Android apps are now vitally important for any global media or brand enterprise – now more so than ever, in light of the platform’s pervasiveness. Maintaining a lower-quality, or feature-poor, Android version of an app that is better on the iOS platform can no longer be explained away with glib stats about difference segment profiles with iPhone users or ignored because Apple developer expertise was earlier to market. App marketers and publishers better have financial and usage data to back up their development investment priorities – and it better align proportionally. Google hasn’t elected to belabor this point by using “the stick” – instead, we view this new ratings-sort feature in the Play Store as an important signal that they intend to provide more “carrots” to motivate app managers to focus on what their diverse, increasingly-global mobile customer base really wants and values. In our view, this is one small example of a much larger key strategic shift in Google’s ability to signal how they intend to help – and reward – app publishers who prioritize app quality in their Android-specific app development and innovation efforts.

3) Mobile Customer Needs Come First – Ignore Them At Your Peril

Finally, Google’s ratings-sort feature acknowledges (at long last) that their Play Store app discovery capabilities have under-delivered to their growing customer base for too long – and they intend to change that. Our prediction is that this is just the first step. We will continue to pay attention to the new tools – and improved quality of Play Store + organic search results – that elevating the importance of app customer evaluations motivates them to create. So here’s the final strategic question we’ll leave you with: “If the most efficient company in the history of the world at organizing and presenting useful information to Internet users is signalling that they intend to raise their emphasis on effective discovery of quality applications, what do YOU intend to do to ensure that your Android app(s) perform at their best for customers?”289008691_2d063fdf97

If you are running a business that is dependent upon mobile customer experiences and commerce – and really, who *isn’t* these days – are you paying enough attention to driving app quality on all of the key mobile platforms? Are you using all of the data at your disposal – both public data like app store ratings, reviews, and meta-data, as well as private data like user mobile OS share and ARPU – to ensure your development and marketing efforts are appropriate? Are you letting historical bias (or just your own personal mobile OS platform preferences) guide an under-emphasis on Android app improvement, quality, and customer regard? Most of all, are you listening to – and engaging with – your mobile app customers with equivalent empathy and focus, regardless of which mobile platform app they are using of yours? In our view, these are some of the important strategic questions that this seemingly small Play Store experience improvement provoke.

As always, we welcome your comments and views on the topic. We know where we stand on the matter: every mobile customer is unique, valued, and valuable – and every customer deserves to receive the highest-quality experience that your resources and developers can deliver. But don’t believe us – just look at Google. They just raised the bar on expectations for app quality and customer evaluations of same. Our bet is that they intend to raise it further still as the mobile marketplace continues to grow and mature.

 

 

 

 

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Dreamforce #DF14 – Relationships Always Matter Most

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This year the spectacle that is Salesforce.com’s “Dreamforce” conference / hubbub / bizdev scrum / fiesta has reached new heights of both technology – and cultural – impact. It is one of the most important events all year for software and digital marketing people because it provides the chance for people usually at a distance to see each other in the real world and improve our personal and professional relationships with each other.

There as ample evidence of this theme in the names and featured content of the actual sessions this year, too. Fully 74 of the sessions listed included the word in the title or description.

Therefore, we thought we’d take that lens and apply it to our summary of the week.

We have the benefit of a first-person vantage point on Dreamforce this year. Our CEO Robi participated in a panel entitled “GROW OR DIE! From Idea to IPO: Fund and Grow your Startup which was part of the Startups @Dreamforce content track on Monday. Robi spent the remainder of the week there also — forming new relationships, renewing old ones, and generally observing the whole thing. What follows are some personal observations of his about how the theme of real, personal relationships struck a chord with him during the conference.

Direct Dispatches from @RGanguly at the ‘Relationships Festival’, #DF14:

A few choice quotes from the conversation between Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman @WEF and Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton, natch) during the Day 2 session featuring them:

  • “The world needs dialog. Because dialog builds trust.” – Klaus Schwab, Founder @WEF #DF14
  • “You have to sustain the community” – Klaus Schwab, Founder @WEF #DF14
  • “You have to have face-to-face trust interactions and constant digital communication” – Klaus Schwab, Founder @WEF #DF14
  • “The Leaders of Today need: Passion & Professionalism, Vision and Values, The Heart, and, these days strong nerves” – Klaus Schwab, Founder @WEF #DF14
  • “At Dreamforce, ethics are as important as electronics” – @hillaryclinton #DF14
  • “If you are not in dialog, if you are not communicating and building trust, you are not building relationships.” – @hillaryclinton #DF14

Hillary Clinton also shared stories of how leaders (FDR, Kennedy, Eisenhower) used to have time to recreate and think: human beings haven’t changed that much, but the scrutiny, the attention, the negative approach has created very difficult hurdles for those who want to serve and want to lead, to do so. Her point was that the media has intensified scrutiny over time, while the amount time spent reporting the actual news has dramatically shrunk. In discussing this, she made a point that I thought was particularly insightful and really something worth keeping in mind:

“Technology has put a higher premium on face-to-face meetings and encounters. To go to them. To listen to them in their settings. In unlikely settings. I don’t think there is any substitute to spending that time together.” – @HillaryClinton

For us, one of the key takeaways from Dreamforce is that it presents a chance for us all in this industry to remember what the words behind the acronym ‘CRM’ *really* mean. It is a moment in time when we should all recall that “Customers” matter most. When we can all remind ourselves that “Relationships” are what create the most value in business, as in life. Managing both requires not only powerful software, but a little time spent together – face to face – in the real world sometimes.

Cheers from the conclusion of #DF14, and from all of us @Apptentive.

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October Events Round-Up: Apptentive at Home and Away

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It is the start of a busy few weeks here at Apptentive, and with a healthy list of events at home and abroad we thought we would kick off this week (and #Dreamforce #DF14 !) with a short round-up of where we will be and how to find us.

DreamforceHeaderStarting off the annual Salesforce San Francisco SaaS festival TODAY, our fearless leader CEO Robi Ganguly (@rganguly for those seeking to meet up with him this week in SF) is participating in a panel titled, “GROW OR DIE! From Idea to IPO: Fund and Grow your Startup. The panel kicks off a track at Dreamforce focused on Startups and is located at the Westin St. Francis at Noon today. If you’ve just arrived in San Francisco for the big event, or you’re a resident looking to learn as much as you can about startup success strategies, head on over to check it out. Robi is joined by an impressive array of other young company leaders. Even if you can’t make the panel discussion today, Robi will be in San Francisco attending DF14 and taking meetings all over the city this week — consider this an open invite to track him down on Twitter or email and connect.

Screenshot 2014-10-01 at 10.12.03 AMLater this week, we have both education and social events to highlight.  First, on Thursday October 16th at 10:00 a.m. PT / 1:00 p.m. ET, Robi will be participating in a great webinar (really a Google+ Hangout) hosted by our friends at the Application Developers Alliance on the topic of “Measuring Customer Lifetime Value: Know Your Customers, Increase Revenue“. If you are a mobile application program manager, product manager, or marketer who is accountable to your company for more than just app downloads/installs, don’t miss it.

Screenshot 2014-10-13 at 11.35.43 AMLater that evening, we are back in the real world as we host our usual monthly ‘Appy Hour‘ event here in Seattle for the mobile development and management community. This month we are delighted to be holding the event at Rhapsody’s corporate offices! We hope that many of our friends from previous Appy Hours will come out for the evening and meet new colleagues, share ideas or projects they are working on, and enjoy themselves. Appy Hour is our way of saying “Thanks” back to the mobile development and marketer community here in our hometown – the more the merrier, and find out more + RSVP here.

And that’s just this week!

Looking ahead to the near future, we will be continuing the ‘Appy Hour‘ events in San Diego (on November 6, building upon a successful and well-attended event recently – also @EvoNexus) and with a soon-to-be-announced ‘Appy Hour’ in Los Angeles as well. We will update all of our Angelinos in the next week or so via this blog and our social channels once the Los Angeles event is finalized!

Lastly, wanted to let everyone know that we’ve started cataloguing all of our planned Events and speaking activities on our “Press and Events” page on the site. If you ever are wondering where we are headed and what we’re doing IRL, feel free to visit that page and click through to the Meetup or Conference/Event pages to find out more and plan accordingly.

All the best from us, and we look forward to seeing you in person at one of these events in the next few weeks – or in attendance virtually at the LTV webinar.

[Oh and while we have your attention, the big Seattle Interactive Conference is happening this week as well. Although we won't be sponsoring or speaking at it, if you're going to be in town and want to meet up please get in touch or just leave a comment below with your Twitter handle. Cheers.]

 

 

 

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Release Day: Overview of New Dashboard and Conversations Features

Today is another exciting release day at Worldwide Apptentive HQ, and we’re pleased to announce two new features which have been requested by customers with increasing regularity. These features are being pushed live across all instances of our platform at every customer price tier – so enjoy the new flexibility that these offer you, if you are a customer!

1) Dynamic Date Ranges for App Health Reporting Dashboard

We often heard that our frequent Dashboard-using customers wanted the ability to modify applicable date ranges for their core App Health Dashboard, thereby refreshing the data powering all of the insight modules on the Dashboard. We recently pushed this live and invite our customers to try it out. You will be able to increase or decrease the applicable date range (from the previous 1-month, un-modifiable default) in the upper right header where the Dashboard Report dates are displayed. In so doing, the date range on Love Score chart module below updates to cover the entire date range selected… or at least back to the start of activation of our SDK and service in your relevant app(s).

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New Dashboard view, with new dynamic date range feature highlighted. With a Giant Red Arrow. Because we love Giant Red Arrows!

 

2) Conversation Search

For those customers with active customer conversations enabled by our Message Center platform module, we frequently heard feedback that our customers wanted the ability to query against their customer message submissions. We are pleased to share that this feature is now complete and live across all customer instances of the platform on the “Conversations” tab of our customer service management application.

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Conversation Search enables Apptentive customers to query the application user Conversation submissions and responses handled by our Message Center platform module.

As our platform improvements release schedule settles in to a regular rhythm here, we will always strive to use our blog as the ‘first / best’ location to learn about these new version releases and feature enhancements. Look for the “Product Release News” post Category as our way of identifying platform release updates in the future.

Warm regards from all of us at Apptentive – and as always, we welcome our customers’ feedback (and ideas) on product enhancements here in the Comments, via our GitHub page or StackOverflow, and of course via our direct feedback channels.

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Building our team: new funds and partners for growth

It’s all about relationships

At the core, our company is about building relationships. Establishing relationships with our customers. Forming relationships with our strategic and software eco-system partners. Helping our customers build better relationships with their customers.

As we continue to build Apptentive, it’s helpful for us to remind ourselves of this simple fact. It drives how we make decisions and with whom we choose to work.

Today I have the pleasure of sharing that we’ve added some very meaningful partners to our company in the process of raising our Series A. Working with the good people at SurveyMonkey and Origin Ventures, we’re taking the next step in our company’s evolution. I’m also delighted to have the continued support of our early investors, with Golden Venture Partners, Founders Co-Op and our many angels joining all four of the co-founders in participating in this round as well.

On behalf of all of us here at Team Apptentive, I’d like to share some personal thoughts about what this means for our growing company. While fundraising is often perceived as being about the money, for us this is really more about the growth we’re experiencing and the continued investments we need to make in order to deliver on the expectations of our customers and ourselves.

Believing in the concept of “Customer Love”

First, I love that we found people who are as committed as we are to the concept of “Customer Love” in SurveyMonkey and Origin Ventures. We are living in a new era where customers are once again being appreciated for what they really are: the most important strategic focus for every company worth it’s salt. Customers, not companies, are the engines of the modern economy. Earning the love – not just the respect or the admiration – of each and every customer is an increasingly crucial task for every company today. The most innovative and successful companies know this already and are doubling down on this commitment… with great outcomes as a result.

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Origin Ventures’ Steve Miller and Bruce Barron

In Origin Ventures, we now have a long-term investment partner which brings deep experience and relationships with many of the largest consumer product and brand companies in the world. Not to mention a team of partners, including Steve Miller and Bruce Barron (pictured here working away on a Mac signed by…oh just, you know… The Woz) and Brent Hill, who really understand not just what kind of mobile software platform we’re building here, but why.

Software development and design innovation are speeding up even as their costs decrease. At the same time, new customer feedback channels have dramatically increased the speed and quality of our insight into what *really matters most* to people. The rise of social media has helped dramatically raise the volume of the customer’s voice. Now mobile devices and applications are quickly changing the game once again. This is why earning customer love – through more efficient and effective mobile app communications – is what we’ve been focused on helping companies do since Day One here.

In Tim Cook’s recent remarks accompanying the latest Apple product releases, he emphasized the importance at his company of delivering an amazing customer engagement experience at every point-of-contact with Apple’s devices, software, and services. apptentive-deviceWe totally agree about the first-priority focus they place on customer delight. But we also want to point out that there is one vital aspect of the mobile experience where Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others in the devices-and-software market simply “go dark” as it relates to customers: inside the applications. This is exactly where companies need to dig deeper and turn their software into communications channels. This is also where Apptentive comes in.

Finding partners who understand this opportunity and who believe in the importance of companies getting more personal has always been a crucial part of our decision criteria. I’m delighted that in our new partners SurveyMonkey and Origin Ventures, we’ve found this shared belief in spades.

Ensuring that Our Customers Love Us

Second, I love the response that we’re hearing from many of our own customers about their experience integrating and using our mobile CRM software tools. Raising our Series A round gives us a variety of options for how best to fuel our next wave of growth plans. One of the most important inputs into these decisions will be the ideas and feedback we’re getting from our current (and soon-to-be!) Apptentive customers. Chuks-Personify.iTSo, keep it coming. We are striving to earn your love of us every day – not only through our software, but also through our team and approach. Consider this a humble request not to congratulate us on this news, but instead to share with us what you love about our company today and how we can do better for you tomorrow.

Growth isn’t just external – often, great growth comes because of internal refinement, insight and focus. Our company has benefited substantially by seeking out mentors and partners who can help us grow into the company we strive to be. In searching for partners who can help us serve our customers better, we really aimed to find great operating experience – people who have built great businesses, delighted their customers, and grown amazing teams in the process. We think we’ve accomplished that goal in this fundraising round.

It Takes A Team to Deliver on Love

Most importantly, I love the team and the company that we are building here at Apptentive. We believe that there is something quite powerful – and motivating – in helping our customers earn their own customers’ love and loyalty through better, more personal communications. We try to incorporate this concept into our priorities for building this company, too. I am so excited about the prospect of welcoming more talented people who share these values and want to join us in achieving this ambitious mission.Feelin-the-love

So if you know talented engineers, marketers, and customer success and sales people (or if you are one yourself) who have that *extra bit* – the “love your work” bit – woven into the fabric of their careers, then consider this my shameless pitch to get in touch soon. Did I mention that we’re hiring? You can learn more about the amazing team that we get to work with every day here.

It’s been an exciting day to reflect. Now it’s time to get back to work.

Let’s keep building the app love… one customer at a time.

Team Apptentive

Robi, Mike, Andrew, Sky, Josh, Steve, Red, Andrew, Peter, Matthew, Stacia, Christy, Nick, Blake and Clay (and perhaps, you)

New iTunes Connect Breaks App Submissions

Update:  We have confirmed that Apple has addressed this issue and app submissions via the new iTunes Connect are now working properly.


 

All eyes and ears were on Apple today as they announced the much-anticipated iPhone 6 with larger displays as well as the Apple Watch. Apple also released a new iTunes Connect, which for developers is starting to attract an outsized share of the attention, but for the wrong reasons.

The new iTunes Connect appears to have an issue which is preventing submission of apps that include an embedded .bundle. Unfortunately this is impacting Apptentive customers as well as customers of numerous other frameworks such as Google Plus and Google Maps for iOS.

Customers attempting to submit apps to the new iTunes Connect site are receiving an error message similar to:

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ERROR ITMS-9000:  Missing or invalid signature. The bundle '$bundleIdentifier' at bundle path 'Payload/XYZ.app/ApptentiveResources.bundle' is not signed using an Apple submission certificate.

If you submit via Xcode, the error message is sent to your developer account via email, rather than shown immediately as above in Application Loader.

On the face of it, the error seems similar to those that have been reported on OS X for Mavericks, which have been covered by Craig Hockenberry on his blog. Unfortunately, going through the steps that Craig suggests do not appear to address this issue.

Both building and submitting with Xcode 5.1.1 and Xcode 6 GM are currently broken in the way outlined above.

We have filed a Radar (bug) report with Apple on this, and based on the significant number of people that are encountering this issue we expect that there will be acknowledgment and resolution from Apple quickly on this issue.

We will keep you updated on this issue via this blog post as well as our Twitter account. This is a great time to follow us if you don’t already, as well as our status & operations Twitter account at @apptentive_ops.

If you have any questions or concerns, please leave a comment below or contact us.

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Swift, Material Design, Wearables and More – Google I/O and WWDC

The experts on Apptentive’s Mobile Team provide answers to your questions about from between app development to successfully marketing your app. Got a question? Ask it in our comment section below or on Twitter using #MobileTeam. In each post we’ll highlight a different topic where the Mobile Team will share their insight and experience.

This week we asked the Mobile Team:
What are you most excited about from Apple’s WWDC 2014 or Google I/O and why?

Rod Burns
The introduction of new language Swift has got iOS developers very excited. I don’t know many developers who particularly enjoy using Objective-C and Swift will make developing for iOS easier and quicker for developers. The language is more akin to web programming languages like JavaScript and Go, where Objective-C is more old school like C++. There are still a lot of web developers who are making the move over to mobile and this is an important move for Apple to continue to attract developers to their platform.

Rod Burns - WIP

Chiu-Ki Chan
I am very excited to see the new Material design. It literally adds a new dimension to the UI – elevation. Elevation determines the size of shadows, and leads to very natural animations. Another great addition is color accents. Developers no longer need to customize every single widget to brand the app. Just specify a color palette in the theme, and voila, the whole app is tinted accordingly. Material design comes with a comprehensive guide on the thinking behind the design, implementation dos and don’ts, and lots of visual examples. It looks beautiful.

Google I/O is stuffed with announcements beyond Material design, and believe it or not, the next thing that got me excited was Cardboard. Yup, it is a piece of cardboard, with lens, magnets and NFC tag. Add a phone, and you get a virtual reality viewer. The magnets are especially ingenious: one magnet is inside the box, to hold the outside magnet within a groove. Pull the outside one down, and the magnetometer on the phone detects the change in magnetic field to trigger a button event. This is how you select an item on the phone while it is trapped inside the cardboard box. Clever, isn’t it? I don’t really have any particular use for a VR viewer, but Cardboard is really fun!

Chiu-Ki Chan -Square Island

Dan Counsell
There were so many great new API’s announced at WWDC 2014, it really opens up so many new opportunities for developers. I can already see us taking advantage of Handoff and App Extensions in both Clear and Ember. For example, we could now write a widget for Notification Centre that shows your most recent tasks from Clear – This is something users have been asking for and we’ve never been able to offer before.

As a user I’m probably most looking forward to the new cleaner look in OS X Yosemite. I’m also very excited for HomeKit and HealthKit, the possibilities for both of these are mind blowing.

Dan Counsell - DanCounsell.com

Ben Johnson
Apple’s new Continuity features of OS X Yosemite and iOS are extremely exciting. The free interchange of information between Mobile, Tablet, Desktop, and TV only further bolsters Apple’s position as a truly unique cross platform ecosystem. There are some fantastic new use cases that will come out of this and we’re really looking forward to including some of this advanced functionality in our apps to make software even easier to use.

Ben Johnson – Raizlabs

Mike Lee
The keynote announcements from these events are always a mix of exciting and scary. New things are exciting! Doubly so for developers and others working in technology, because new things change our direction, for better or for worse. That’s the scary part, because you don’t know.

Even now, a month later, with the new ideas in grasp, and the new betas installed, I’m not sure. It takes time to see how things pan out. Exciting! Scary!

We make technology because we get bored and dissatisfied with the old stuff, because we like the challenge of being kept on our toes, of not knowing whether we’re getting in on the ground floor, or wasting our time while the competition laps us.

Mike Lee – The New Lemurs

Kyle Richter
Apple has begun to make great strides towards unifying iOS and Mac not just from a design standpoint but with functionality like Handoff and Continuity. This feels like a level of maturity on both platforms that will usher in a new wave of exciting use cases. Thinking of all your technology as a single continuous device is definitely where the future is heading and it is very refreshing to see a company like Apple getting behind that drive.

Kyle Richter – Empirical Development

Dan Shapiro
The Wear products are fascinating. It’s most of the value of Google Glass, but delivered in a way that harmonizes with social norms instead of disrupting them. I’m wearing one now and it’s still a little too intrusive, but unlike Glass, that’s a software problem, not a hardware one.

Dan Shapiro – DanShapiro.com

Michele Titolo
There were a lot of awesome things announced during WWDC. iOS 8 is really a developer release. But the thing I’m most excited about is the changes we are starting to see from Apple; they are starting to open up more. We don’t have a WWDC-specific NDA this year. The Developer Forums will be index by search engines. When we are more free to talk and write about the new frameworks and APIs, everyone wins.

Michele Titolo – Michele.io

Conor Winders
From a pure developer perspective, Apple’s announcement of the Swift programming language is one of the most exciting things to happen the platform in years. The opportunity for existing and new developers who learn the language is immense. Apple might be talking a big game about supporting Objective-C and C long term but there should be no doubt that the future of the platform is Swift. Already we have seen a number of the new features of iOS and Xcode tied intrinsically to Swift.

In theory, a new language built from the ground up for iOS and the associated hardware is an incredibly powerful proposition. Apple will be able to do things that nobody else can even dream of, and we as developers have the chance to take that journey with them. From a more realistic perspective of course, we won’t really get to use Swift in anger for a year or two anyway, but it sure will be fun when we can.

Conor Winders – Redwind Software

What excites you the most from this year’s WWDC and Google I/O? Share your questions and comments below or by using #MobileTeam on Twitter.


Apple Events WWDC 2014

WWDC 2014 – Apple’s developer relationships mature

Open.

Apple opened up – it showed us more love, more insight into what’s coming next and more answers. Last week’s WWDC was notable in its universal inspiration of developers. The reason was a simple one: they felt like they’d been heard. As @jsnell wrote before WWDC, there is a new confidence to this version of Apple. This Apple shares more and listens harder. Gruber and Matt Drance agree that this WWDC was a monumental success, covering most of the main requests from the developer community and then shocking them with the dream of a new beginning. It feels like Swift is a jolt of forced fresh thinking at just the right time.

To The Cloud.

I find it fascinating to watch Apple transform in front of us. The future of computing is service-oriented. Unfortunately, services are an area of weakness for Apple. iCloud continues to be unreliable, the App Store has been massively behind Google Play’s innovation curve and the company who defined act 1 of digital music looks downright old in Act 2:  Beats seems like a blatant admission. Apple can’t afford to give up here, however. They realize that the changes might render them irrelevant. Not immediately, but over the next 10 to 15 years. Apple knows what it’s like to peak and then be beaten. They have respect for how quickly this can change. So they’re changing themselves, working to build out more services and taking more “risk”. As Matt shared, Apple struggles with a more open, services-oriented approach because of how they perceive risk:

The massive technical and political change required and subsequently generated by things like extensibility, third-party keyboards, and a new programming language, bears massive risk both inside and outside of Apple. That risk — to security, to battery life, to a consistent experience that customers know and trust — was constantly evaluated when I fought for SDK enhancements as a Technology Evangelist inside Apple. And more often than not, it was decided either that the risks were too high, or that there wasn’t enough time to solve the problem while sufficiently containing those risks.”

Contrast that with Google, Amazon and Facebook: they have grown up in a services-oriented world and are steeped in how to iterate quickly and take “risks” with developer-facing offerings. The word risk means different things to these companies – they’re used to deploying their software into the cloud. Apple is getting more comfortable with this concept, finally. You can see it with their announcements about iOS 8. A lot of the announcements were about upgrades to their developer services. You can see this by dissecting two of the most interesting areas of change:

  • The notifications center and app widgets
  • The App Store and iTunes Connect

Notification Center and App Widgets

iOS-8-Widgets-in-Notification-Center
Screenshots of the new widgets in notification center

There is a strong argument to be made that notification center will be the most important screen on your iPhone or iPad. Similar to Google Now, notifications center has the opportunity to highlight core information at the right time. However, instead of Google determining what information to show, Apple is letting developers create the experience and compete for the attention of their customers.

Widgets enable more information to be accessible through the notification center. We fully expect more apps to be including widgets and working to ensure adoption of their widgets. This new channel for communication on a customer’s home screen will be used for marketing, customer feedback, follow-up and ongoing reminders of an app’s value. If you’re an informational app, there’s no reason you need to have a customer open your app in order to access crucial information. App Widgets and the updates to Notification Center are exciting developments and we can’t wait to experiment with them with our customers. But I bring up Notification Center and App Widgets as an example of how Apple is moving into services: cautiously but in a way that’s giving developers more control over the entire iOS experience.

If we’re right and Notification Center ends up consuming more of consumer time on the mobile device, this is an important decision. Apple, historically so careful with the customer experience, is giving the keys to the engagement castle away, trusting that developers will do the right things. This new Apple is letting developers define the mobile experience.

What will be interesting to observe is what happens when app developers get too aggressive with their widgets. Will the review process begin to test notifications out? Will developers be throttled in their widget activity? What extra controls will be embedded in the Settings section to give people control over the noise in Notification Center?

App Discovery and Marketing in the App Store

While much is made of iCloud and iTunes, the App Store is likely Apple’s most impactful web service today. Unfortunately, app discovery and search in the the App Store have long been a point of contention because developers and publishers have felt like they had insufficient tools and very little insight into the decision-making processes. While we don’t expect all of that to change with this update, it’s clear that Apple has invested more time and energy in improving the experience, both for publishers and app customers. Most of the improvements that were made should improve search, discoverability, reporting, attribution and conversion tracking. Fundamentally, the App Store team is providing a service that helps mobile businesses grow and they’re starting to act like it.

Apple's iOS 8 should bring related search
Related Search coming soon?

Improved Search

The changes don’t appear to be deployed yet on iOS 8 devices – but from the keynote, Apple’s new app store search will include “trending searches.” Similar to trends on Twitter, this feature gives insight into what are current popular searches in the App Store. It will be interesting to see how these suggestions will differ from the apps that appear in the Top Charts.

Replacing the “Apps Near Me” Section

Apple's iOS 8 will revamp app discovery
Bye bye “Apps Near Me”

Apple’s new “Explore” function in the App Store is a major improvement over the previous “Apps Near Me” feature that had limited use cases. With “Explore,” you are able to easily drill down into sub categories of each app vertical to find apps that suit your needs. The key takeaway here is that Apple is clearly experimenting with discovery methods and once “Apps Near Me” proved to be unsuccessful, they weren’t afraid to change it up.

App Previews

App previews have been desired by publishers for years – demonstrating an interactive app with flat screenshots is just not sufficient to the task. Great app previews will provide a boost in downloads for apps by telling the story more effectively. For paid apps this will become an important tool for converting visitors into a paid install. For more information on app previews and how to make them effective, our friends at Apptamin have written a great post with tips on how to use them. What remains to be seen is how Apple is going to deal with the quality question: many of the previews will be of poor quality. Is the review process now going to encompass reviewing your App Preview? If so, how much time is this going to add to the review process?

Beta Testing

It’s no secret that beta testing has been a frustrating experience for most iOS developers. As apps get more sophisticated and customer expectations rise, it’s absolutely crucial that developers conduct some testing and get feedback from customers before launching the apps more broadly. Launching with a buggy or incomplete app is just not an option for companies with an existing brand and customer base. This process has been significantly limited by Apple’s provisioning requirements and limits.

The purchase of TestFlight implied that this was going to get more attention from Apple and sure enough, WWDC confirmed this. Making it much easier to ship beta versions of apps to up to 1000 people (note that each person can have multiple devices, really increasing the scope of testing) is a huge win for publishers. The quality of apps is certainly going to improve as a result. The fact that Apple saw this area as truly important and crucial to the ecosystem further underlines their movement to a service-oriented approach – they have to be a provider of ongoing services that improve the app development and release process and testing is a crucial piece of the puzzle now.

Reporting

Reporting and analytics have long been subpar in iTunes Connect. If you wanted to understand how many people took a look at your app’s App Store page, well, that was just impossible. If you wanted to try and implement attribution tracking, you had to work with HasOffers or another outside vendor, which meant that the vast majority of developers weren’t even thinking about the problem. Trying to understand your app’s retention and installation activity? You better set up an analytics package and get comfortable with their reports. While there were many developers who invested in analytics, attribution and other reporting tools, the problem with the lack of information coming out of Apple was that key pieces of the puzzle were missing. Without App Store view and conversion data, every other analysis was an incomplete guess. Furthermore, the vast majority of developers weren’t taking the time to invest in these tools, resulting in suboptimal results.

With more information about customer needs and actions comes better software. Apple’s rollout of reporting and analytics tools should reverse this state of affairs, democratizing the data and information about app store behavior, unleashing a wave of more finely honed app strategies and better informed developers. Many of us thought Apple just didn’t want to share this data, but WWDC communicated that Apple understands our problems and wants to help us be more successful. By investing in this area of iTunes Connect Apple is making it easier for the rest of us who help app publishers to deliver a full picture of customer activity and behavior. Our in-app communications tools help with app store download conversion and customer retention.

Now that Apple’s providing us the core data for these calculations, we can help our customers contextualize that data and act upon it instead of spending numerous cycles just to estimate impacts and results.

Looking forward: designing a better mobile experience

In addition to the items we’ve highlighted above, there are many more inspiring features that we’ll all be discovering in the coming months. You can find a full overview on all the features released in iOS 8, but the most interesting pieces won’t be clear for at least 6 months. Once iOS 8 is out the door and in the hands of consumers, we’ll get to see how the new changes are helping us make better apps and be more successful. We’re excited to see how this unfolds with a newly open and supportive Apple. We can’t wait.

appdesign

These 7 Apps Understand Great Design

The experts on Apptentive’s Mobile Team provide answers to your questions about from between app development to successfully marketing your app. Got a question? Ask it in our comment section below or on Twitter using #MobileTeam. In each post we’ll highlight a different topic where the Mobile Team will share their insight and experience.

This week we asked the Mobile Team:
What app has a great user interface that other app developers can look at for inspiration and why?

Rod Burns

BBC Weather App DesignBBC Weather App DesignBBC Weather

 

I really like the clean interface of the BBC weather app. The horizontal scrolling works really nicely and makes it really intuitive to use, the layout is clear and shows the information I want to see.

Download the BBC Weather App – Android | iOS

Rod Burns - WIP

Dan Counsell

Castro App DesignCastro

Castro is a superb example of an app that developers should take inspiration from. While the UI is mixture of tap areas and gestures, the app remains intuitive and easy to use. A lot of apps get this wrong and overload on gesture making it confusing for users to navigate — Castro hits just the right balance.

Download the Castro App – iOS

Dan Counsell - DanCounsell.com

Ben Johnson

Shortwave Messaging

Shortwave Messaging screen568x568Shortwave – a relatively new messaging app that was just featured on the app store – has a beautifully simple UI. Unfortunately the app hasn’t hit a critical mass for me to find any real utility from it, but the UI is spot on.

Solid colors clearly indicate where functionality lies, transitions from one view to the other appropriately expand or contract that same UI to provide consistency between views and in a new and novel way.

The sheer simplicity and design restraint displayed in the app is aspirational.

Download the Shortwave App – iOS

Ben Johnson – Raizlabs

Leigh Momii

Sonos Mobile AppSonos

Sonos’ new app design is great. Part of the reason why this stands out so much too is that the previous design was old and stale and didn’t follow Google’s latest Android design guidelines. What a difference a makeover can have. Sonos’ slick new integration with Google Play Music is further enhanced by a beautiful interface to go with the great sound experience that comes with Sonos products. Simplification was also a big key here in their success.

Download the Sonos App – Android | iOS

Leigh Momii – HTC

Michele Titolo

TapTalkTapTalk App

I was recently introduced to an app called TapTalk. It’s a lot like snapchat, but is even simpler. The best thing about it is that the UI really gets out of the way. When you open the app you are immediately in the view to post a new photo, and can send with a single tap. The UI literally gets out of the way of the primary function of the app.

Download the TapTalk App – Android | iOS

Michele Titolo – Michele.io

Conor Winders

Facebook Paper AppFacebook Paper

It’s Facebook, but it’s nothing like Facebook. This app has impressed me more than I thought Facebook ever could. They have completely reimagined what it is to use the social network and wrapped it in a truly delightful app. My Facebook usage has soared since I downloaded Paper.

What had become a stale and boring experience in the regular app has been completely transformed in Paper. Everything moves and bounces and stretches and in general is fun to play with. I find myself sitting there playing with the interface at least once or twice a day, purely because it is so much fun and such a joy to use. The Paper app is a remarkable achievement.

Download the Paper App – iOS

Jawbone UP Coffee AppJawbone UP Coffee

I’m a huge fan of the Jawbone UP and I’m a huge fan of coffee. One of those is good for me and the other, not so much. So when Jawbone released UP Coffee it seemed like it would be a great way to track and cut down on my coffee consumption. Well, how wrong I was. UP Coffee is so fun to use I actually found myself drinking more coffee and caffeinated drinks because I enjoyed adding them to the app so much!

The regular Jawbone UP app is a brilliant piece of work and so I expected big things from this app. I was not disappointed. Everything is super simple and again, like Facebook Paper it is just so much fun to use. Also, kudos for the best use of Push/Local notifications I’ve seen in an app yet. The app seems to recognize my coffee drinking habits and remind me via a notification each day at the right time if I haven’t logged in yet.

Download the Jawbone Up Coffee App – iOS

Conor Winders – Redwind Software

Do you have any apps that you believe offer well designed interfaces? Share your questions and comments below or by using #MobileTeam on Twitter.


Ratings Prompts for Mobile Apps

Ratings Prompts Don’t Have To Suck

John Gruber, of Daring Fireball, shared his frustration with the usage of ratings prompts last December:

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

In the following weeks, several other people chimed in on the topic, having a somewhat public, flowing debate about the practice of reaching out to customers for better ratings. A deeper discussion about the app store, consumer decision-making and why ratings matter was touched on, but largely left alone as most focused on the execution of the prompts.

On one side, you had Gruber, Marco Arment and others who were strongly against the practice. On the other side, we heard from Cabel Sasser , Chris Gonzales, Dan Counsell, and Wil Shipley who had arguments in favor of reaching out to customers. Penalizing hard working developers and publishers hardly seems fair when the app store represents such an important piece of the distribution and customer connection puzzle.

Somewhere in the middle, Daniel Jalkut offered a nuanced view of the situation that asked more questions than it answered, challenging us all to explore what is truly best for the consumer. Taken in sum, this was a good beginning to what is a much larger conversation.

Ratings Prompts for Mobile Apps

Ratings prompts, while being the interruption that catalyzed this conversation, represent only the tip of the iceberg. This is about much more than ratings. It’s about more than improving an app’s rankings.

This is about how companies communicate with their customers in the mobile world.

For many companies, mobile is the primary medium of communication with their customers and the number of companies who are mobile first will only grow. Each of us carries a little communications device that buzzes and blinks all day long, alerting us to news, updates, and information. These messages build up – messages from our friends, our family and yes, the companies we’ve allowed into our inboxes, given our phone numbers, and whose apps we’ve installed.

We do not have to guess how this plays out – we already know. There are reasons why developers employ prompts, why websites have numerous pop-ups, and we can only expect to see more of these on mobile. These messages increase revenue, retention, ratings, and customer interaction. Overuse of these tactics is well documented, and while inappropriate interruptions can make a difference to a companies’ metrics, we know that appropriate, non-intrusive, implementation can make a larger one.

You don’t boycott a store because a clerk asked if they could help you or become annoyed when a cashier asks if you were able to find everything all right.

What is needed is a better answer to the question: “How can I communicate with my app customers without driving them crazy?” The answer has to come from the app developers and publishers, not the app customers. Nor can we rely on the app stores to make meaningful changes.

Starting a campaign to rate apps 1 star if they prompt for a review or calling developers greedy and desperate are not constructive and don’t take us to a healthier communications environment. You don’t boycott a store because a clerk asked if they could help you or become annoyed when a cashier asks if you were able to find everything all right.

Helping customers at the right moment
Asking people if they need help, at the right moment, can create a delightful experience.

Let’s Start Talking With Our Customers, Together

This is really about companies wanting to talk to their customers in an elegant, helpful, and relevant way without being annoying. So, what is the right way to communicate with customers inside a mobile app?

By working with thousands of companies on these problems we’ve discovered that there are a few clear guidelines that can form the basis of better behavior by apps:

  • Don’t interrupt customers in the middle of tasks or at app launch
  • Identify and enable communication at key moments in the customer’s journey – when they’re happy, frustrated, or lost. Identifying these moments should be a natural part of any app’s design process
  • Instrument your communications activity so that you know what the impacts and outcomes of your messaging strategy are – working with hard coded solutions that don’t make you any smarter about your customers’ preferences is a recipe for disaster
  • Iterate, experiment, and be able to make changes on the fly

Some Myths and A Better Way to Communicate

In the debate about ratings prompts a lot of strong feelings based upon personal anecdote formed the foundation of much of the analysis. Significant assumptions about consumer behavior at scale made its way into commonly held beliefs. What has been sorely lacking, however, has been actual concrete data.

“If you don’t know what happens when you send a message, you might as well not send the message at all.”

Here at Apptentive, we think a lot about customer communication and the experience for the end consumer. For years we’ve instrumented every message and communication we power for our customers, measuring what the outcomes are.

We’ve held ourselves to a standard that says, “If you don’t know what happens when you send a message, you might as well not send the message at all.” This perspective has served our customers and our team well. It helps us to deliver best practices, improve tools, and shed light on an area that is severely lacking in data. For example, we know that:

  • Just asking people to rate the app is ~5 to 10x less effective than starting a conversation about whether or not the consumer is happy
  • The actual words used in the message to the customer can dramatically change the % of ecstatic customers who talk about your app in the app store and impact the % of ratings that also result in reviews
  • Showing a ratings prompt on launch is 50% more likely to result in the app being closed than if it’s shown at any other point in the app
  • Customers who are asked about their opinion with an app who are unhappy are >100% more likely to return to the app than the average app customer. It turns out that being informed that the company actually cares about your opinion can change the dynamic
  • When you give people choices about what action to take, only about 20 to 30% of customers will actually exit the app to do something else.

This week we rolled out many major improvements to our services, which represents over 2 years of working with many of the world’s largest companies. We have a sophisticated communications system focused on enabling you to listen and talk with your mobile customers. Our company is betting on the fact that you, and app publishers everywhere, want to treat their customers well and with respect.

We believe that while in-app communications are inevitable, they don’t have to be annoying, unsophisticated, and a necessary evil. We know that it’s possible to connect with your app customers at the right time and we know many of you truly deeply care about the mobile customer experience. Your passion for the consumer experience is why the ratings debate prompted such strong opinions and discussion in the first place.

It’s Time We All Got Better At Talking With Our Customers

Poorly implemented ratings prompts raised awareness around how easily a mobile experience can be ruined. It’s time to re-examine all of our customer interactions and ask ourselves if we can do better. Are there better places in the app to ask for feedback? Are there places where customers might need help and appreciate a company reaching out?

As we said earlier, this conversation is just the beginning. We know there are strong opinions about this and encourage you to add your thoughts below. Many of you are our customers, colleagues, and fellow app enthusiasts and we value your words. We plan on taking the thoughtfulness and execution behind customer communication to a level beyond where it exists today on mobile and even online. We encourage you all to communicate with your customers the right way as we all work towards creating products that people love.