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App Developer Ethics

Becoming An Ethical App Developer at Renaissance IO

Last week I had the chance to attend Renaissance IO – a single track conference focused on helping iOS app developers build better software. The small size of the conference and openness of the community created a unique experience. Every attendee got the chance to talk with every speaker and create new friends to go along with the valuable insight and inspiration the conference provided. If you weren’t able to make it, I recommend you sign up to see videos of the sessions.

Every session was valuable and while I generally write-up an overview of the conferences I attend, I’ll be focusing on one session that stood out for me and leave the rest to be consumed via the video sessions.

Ethics for App Makers

Shannon Vallor, a professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University, gave a talk on a subject that I have heard in regards to technology, but never broken down and targeted specifically at app developers.

As an app developer have you ever thought about ethics in regards to your work?

1. Set Appropriate Limits

You should limit the amount and kinds of information you collect about the people using your app. Only collect information you need for the app to perform its function. Don’t collect as much information as you can and store it for later just in case you may need it.

Every question and data point you collect about your customers needs to be carefully considered. Make sure you know why you are collecting something, how it will be used, and who you are collecting it for. If information is somehow leaked who could be affected and how seriously? Who might be able to gain access or purchase the information at a later time?

Not everyone is comfortable with sharing personal information. Look at your app through the perspective of an ordinary customer whose expectations and comfort zone can be different from an app developer or extremely tech savvy individual.

2. Making Money

Is taking advantage of human psychology or age an ethical way to make money? This is an interesting discussion. In general, it is difficult to make a living off of mobile apps so any solution to help developers make money is used. Apps that make money by appealing to people’s natural desires and tendencies may seem like an ethical way to make money, but in some situations it isn’t. Just because it is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it is good, just as doing something legally doesn’t make it right. You need to decide for yourself if your app and your monetization strategy is something you’d be proud to tell your friends and family about.

3.  Software That Reinforces Socioeconomic Inequalities

Do the apps that you develop reinforce socioeconomic inequalities? Probably not, but it is something to always consider. If your app is expensive or requires equipment that many people cannot afford, does that make it inaccessible to people who may need it? If it is, then you should consider taking measures to expand affordability of the product.

4. The Blame Game – Corporate Software Development

Should you worry about how the software you develop is being used by your company? Yes! Developers understand the nature of technology and how it can affect people better than anybody. Make sure you stay involved and know how the code you wrote is being used.

When it comes down to it, you can be blamed for anything, whether it was your fault or not, that’s just the nature of the world we live in. It is your job to stand up and take the correct course of action when you can. Be conscious of how your software is used. If you foresee an unethical use of your software standup and say something. If you discover that software is being used unethically after the fact, it is never too late to remedy the problem.

The discussion on ethical software development is something every developer should take part in at least once. It is important to take a step back and look at what you do in the larger scheme of things, especially as software has such an impact on our lives. Just keeping these ideas in mind will help us create apps that help us flourish together as opposed to software that may exploit us instead.

Security and Privacy Rights

Security, privacy, and ethics all go hand in hand. I recommend that you read the FTC guidelines on mobile app privacy and take the necessary steps to securely store the information you gather from your customers. As software becomes more and more integral to our daily lives, we should be confident that it is helping us grow positively and reassure people that their information is safe and secure.

If you have any comments or thoughts on this topic please share them below.



App Security

5 Easy Ways to Make Your App More Secure than Snapchat

Hacking Mobile Apps
Did you know that 78% of the top 100 Android and iOS apps have been hacked? It’s true. And the problem is, it’s not going to get any better over time. There is an increasing amount of malware targeting smartphones and it’s no surprise since smartphone adoption is rising so quickly. Unfortunately, when we sit down and create our apps the last thing we want to think about is the boring app security side of things.

Marketing, getting updates to our customers, and designing a beautiful app are honestly much more fun. But just think about the poor ratings and feedback Snapchat got after the hack. The truth is, you don’t have to be a security expert to have a secure app. Implementing just a few of these simple security techniques take less than an hour and you’ll be back to making your amazing app in no time. Check these out.

1. Make sure you use SSL to talk to your servers

Not using SSL to pass your user’s data back and forth from their phone to the servers is like ringing the dinner bell to invite hackers to the feast. Even some of the biggest companies, Amazon in particular, have been caught not passing data securely in their mobile apps. Don’t risk your user’s data because of a simple oversight. It’s easy to use SSL to protect use data, especially since the two most popular platforms handle most of the dirty work for you. Just use “https://” any time you want customers to sign in, provide an email, or anything else you wouldn’t want hackers to intercept and you will already be well ahead of the game.

 2. Invest in two-factor authentication

You are probably familiar with two-factor authentication without even knowing it. It’s the same technology your bank or email provider uses to make sure you are who you say you are. The good news is you don’t have to be a large bank or email provider to pull this off. There are a few dead simple options app developers can use to get going in a matter of minutes like Google Authenticator or DuoSecurity. Just be sure to choose an option that won’t be difficult for you to implement and for your customers to use.

3. Use a secure mobile app content management system

When you send video, images, or any other content to your customers, how do you send it? If you are delivering that content remotely, consider using a secure mobile app CMS like Joppar Content. Think about it. The content in your app is just as important, if not more important than the app’s function itself. If you don’t want hackers to stream infamous scenes from The Godfather to your kids, make sure you protect where your content is being served.

4. Don’t skip on code reviews

One of the good things about developing apps with a team is the extra expertise you have at your fingertips. Even if you don’t have a team of super sleuth mobile app security experts, a few developers may notice some code vulnerabilities. Don’t skip on these golden opportunities to get feedback that will help you improve your app security. Don’t have a team? That’s fine. Find a trusted developer friend, a co-worker off the clock, or pay for a code review from a few code review services online. Whatever you do, try your best to get another pair of eyes on it.

5. Don’t ask for so much information

Do you really need your mobile app customers’ middle name, phone number, address, eye color, waist size, last lunch selection, and blood type to deliver a great user experience? If you said yes, I want to see your app ;)  Asking too much information can be annoying to the user and a huge security risk. To paraphrase one of my favorite security experts Frank Rietta, ‘If you aren’t willing to spend the money or time to secure it, don’t ask for it’.

Clearly, this is not the “definitive” list of mobile app security tips, in fact it’s just the beginning. Just don’t make the same mistake as Snapchat did and think of app security as a “bonus” or “extra” thing you can do later. Adding some of these security measures into your mobile app now will help you at least give hackers a challenge later.

So, how much time do you spend on making sure your app is secure? What preventative measures have you taken so far? Let me know in the comments below.

About the author: Patrick Chukwura, co-founder of Joppar, has been a developer for over 13 years. He has two popular apps that were downloaded over 1 million times and featured by Apple, Mashable, CNET, and more. Now, he helps make mobile app optimization tools that help mobile app teams launch apps easier and faster.



Mobile App Development

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Mobile App Developers in 2014

Mobile Apps 2014
2013 marked the year of mobile app proliferation. It is uncommon to find someone, of any age, who hasn’t experienced using a mobile app. The mobile marketplace itself has shown maturity in design, functionality, advertisements, customer communication, and crafting a sustainable business.

With the improvements to mobile apps over the year, mobile app developers and companies are faced with a more difficult challenge than any before – customer expectations. The average person using mobile apps has considerable experience with a large range of apps and expect the best.

To have a successful app in 2014, here are 5 resolutions that shouldn’t be broken.

1. Customer Communication

Customer support, customer service, and a great customer experience  is more important than ever for every mobile app, no matter what vertical you’re in. Having a direct communication channel between you and your customers can be the difference between a successful app and one that fails.

Every app would rather receive feedback  directly from customers instead of receiving it in the app store accompanied by a negative review. Being able to listen and respond to customers is the foundation of exceptional support and service. Taking an unhappy customer and solving their problem can easily turn a negative experience into a positive one. Be sure to listen to your customers in-app in 2014 and you will be rewarded.

2. Improved Performance

Even with the large number of apps that are available, only 40% of them actually get used and a large portion of these are plagued by performance issues. Apps that crash, freeze, or are just plain slow are often immediately deleted. Consumers don’t care to deal with a low performance application, especially when there is bound to be an alternative app (or five) they can use. App performance needs to be constantly tracked and monitored.

Here are a couple of things to remember when measuring (and testing) your app’s performance:

  • Track performance on multiple devices and operating systems
  • Track performance on different networks: wifi, 3g, 4g, and LTE

Create apps that perform well on any network, the majority of devices, and the most recent operating systems. Apps that don’t perform well rarely get revisited. Even after performance issues get fixed, it is unlikely a customer will choose to download the app again. Test and measure throughout every step of the development cycle.

3. Intelligent Advertising

Advertising provides revenue for many mobile apps and often serves as an app discovery tool as well. However, people don’t open an app to see an advertisement and too ads can ruin the experience and cause low retention rates. Even a single poorly placed ad can cause someone to close the app, lose interest in completing a purchase, or discourage someone from using the app again.

Be intelligent when and where you advertise inside your apps. Make an effort to incorporate your ads as seamlessly as possible. Don’t settle for using ad networks that have low quality advertisements that degrade the overall design of your app.

4. Design Updates

Design has become one of the most important aspects for a successful mobile app. Both iOS 7 and KitKat are focused on design and apps need to start reflecting this. In Apple’s case, all apps must be compliant with iOS 7 by February 1st.

To get started on improving your app design, take a look at these resources:

5. Security

Security is a real issue for everybody using mobile apps. In a recent report from HP, 97% of apps contained a privacy issue, 86% lacked basic security defenses, and 75% fail to properly encrypt personal data. As the general population starts to rely more heavily on using mobile apps, security is of the utmost importance.

The newer operating systems give consumers more control than ever over their privacy settings, but many don’t understand the implications and security concerns surrounding mobile apps. As an app developer it is incredibly important to develop apps that are secure from the ground up. You may not be reliable for any breaches in security, but you have an obligation to protect customer information to the best of your ability.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

Mobile app developers hold the future of how we interact with technology, connect with companies, and organize our lives. Follow these 5 New Year’s resolutions that mobile app developers should not break, and you’ll be off to a great start.

iPhone Localization

Localization and Mobile Apps: The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

LocalizationIf you’re able to read this sentence, chances are English is your native or second language. It is a common misconception that English takes priority over other languages, especially in the online and tech world. This is of course not true.

What we forget is that we live in a world amongst 7 billion people, which is said to increase up to 10.9B by 2050. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012 the population of the U.S. is 313.9 million. So if you think about the fraction of the U.S. versus the world it’s essentially an ant on an ant farm.

As of 2010, there are an estimated 445 million Chinese, 154 million Spanish and 99 million Japanese language users online. It is estimated that fast-increasing language users, such as Chinese, will fully dominate and replace English as the top online language users within a matter of time. What does this entail for app developers and brands?

Well, in order to reach a higher audience for your app, you must localize it or risk being left out in the cold. English has not always been taught as a second language so we must keep our prior generations in mind, as well, when increasing a broader market for online applications. If the user doesn’t understand what your application does, chances of them downloading it are slim to none.

An article in the MIT Technology Review states, “Mobile computers are spreading faster than any other consumer technology in history.” In January 2013, Facebook reported that for the first time the majority audience was coming from mobile devices rather than personal laptops. Mobile technology is currently our leading source and therefore we must see the importance of localization and translation for mobile apps.

Many successful companies have made their apps available on a global scale, but more often than not, it has come at a steep price. Usually professional translation services can cost big bucks, sometimes as much as $.20 or $.30 per word. Traditionally, this would lead to only big companies or individuals who can afford this extra expenditure to offer multi-lingual content.

As a relatively new alternative, machine translators have since helped to provide free translations for everyone. However, for anyone who has used Google Translate, Bing Translator, or any number of the free machine translators available online, they know the results are rarely, if ever, accurate. While some might say, “something is better than nothing,” the truth is that having poorly translated content can actually have the inverse effect on your company. Many people will be turned off by the bad grammar or unintelligible content, and may actually think your company or app is poor quality and not worth downloading, regardless of the functionality or game play. That’s a big price to pay for merely trying to expand your market.

For these reasons, there has been a large push in the translation and localization field to come up with even more alternatives to help solve the language gap issue. As a member of Ackuna, a recently launched translation service, we find that the best solution for us is utilizing crowdsourcing to power localization to another level. Ackuna markets toward app developers as well as companies wishing to translate their web content. Instead of relying on inaccurate machine translations, Ackuna utilizes crowdsourcing amongst their online members to translate the content. The service is completely free and the process is a lot more accurate than any machine translation out on the market. Think of it as a translation machine powered entirely by humans.

Bottom line is that the online world is quickly becoming more globalized. The fewer language options you provide, the fewer downloads. However, what you use to translate your content matters greatly. If you have the extra money to spend on a professional translation company, by all means you should do so. Quality translation is an investment, just like any other marketing venture. However, there are new alternatives being developed which are worth exploring if money is a significant factor.

About the Author: 
Irina Usharenko is a marketing intern at Ackuna. Irina is expected to graduate this
year with a B.A. in Marketing Management from Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business. She plays a quartzy game of scrabble and has a passion for innovative technology.

L.O.V.E

Love: The Apptentive Framework to Improving the Customer Experience

We’re all about the love, but when we use the tagline “Spread the Love”  at Apptentive, we are not just talking about sharing that wonderful feeling. At Apptentive, we use the letters L.O.V.E. as a constant reminder of how we should build our product and interact with our customers. It is a framework that we use to continually improve our product while keeping our customers in mind.L.O.V.E.

These four letters create a list that you should consider everyday when you think about how your app is interacting with your customers. Each aspect of the acronym is important and there is no order in which to follow them. Instead, it is understanding that there is a right moment (which could be all the time) to use each piece of L.O.V.E that is important.

• Listen

Listening is the foundation of every positive relationship. We have all heard the adage, “hearing is easy, listening is hard,” but how does that translate to businesses and is it even important? Every customer has listened to another one for advice, suggestions, and warnings about a product. It is important for businesses to listen to the customer as well. In regards to mobile, much of the feedback can be straight forward, but take the time to digest the words being said as that can lead to a better understanding in general of how the app can be improved. For example, if someone comments on reducing the steps to access a certain feature, consider making it simpler to access all the features.

When somebody reaches out by sending feedback, asking questions, or commenting it means they care. Whether the messages contain praise or criticism, a customer is taking the time to send it. That alone gives it enough value to warrant a developers attention. For every customer complaint there are many others who feel the same way but remain silent. Ignoring negative feedback will result in some serious missed opportunities, and result in driving people away from your app. People leaving negative feedback want to use your app as much or even more so than those who provided positive feedback. Furthermore, negative feedback can provide developers with vital information on how to improve the app. In case you need any help handling negative feedback here are some tips to turn negative reviews into happy customers.

Listening is also about providing a place where you can listen and encouraging people to talk with you. This is why social media has become an integral channel to many businesses. Show that you listen to your customers by always commenting and thanking people through your social media channels. Often times people don’t reach out because they think there won’t be a response. Show them that responding is a priority. With a mobile app, any channel avoiding the app store should be used as an alternative as a place to listen (social media, blogs, forums etc.). At Apptentive, we want to make it easy for app developers to listen to their customers and provide a place in-app where customers can communicate with you, the app developer.

As 2013 picks up speed, it is clear that customers want a better customer experiences. It is so important that people will pay more for companies that provide great customer experiences. As app developers, having many different places where customers can go to be listened to is an easy step to use to start improving the customer experience.

• Observe

Observing is about incorporating data to judge if something is significant or not . In the technical world of bugs, freezes, and crashes some problems may be hard or too time consuming for customers to thoroughly explain.  Therefore, it is up to the developer to investigate an issue in order to come to a complete understanding of the issue. If app developers are focused on listening to their customers, there will be a large amount of feedback. Being able to observe allows app developers to be able to prioritize what feedback is most important and should be acted upon. In an ideal world everything can be fixed, changed, or added but that is not always possible, especially with smaller indie developers. Therefore, it is important to be able to discern what items are most significant. Don’t get sidetracked trying to improve features that only you think is important. Focus on what is important to the customer, or you won’t have any left. Apptentive provides data to app developers to more easily understand customer sentiment towards certain features and generally gathers feedback about what customers like or dislike about an app.

If it is difficult to ascertain what should be fixed through the data gathered, take a walk in the customer’s shoes for a day and use the app (or product) as if you daily life depended on it. That will help clarifying what to improve upon. You owe it to yourself to make the best app possible, because if you don’t take the time to make your app great, why should customers take the time to use it!

• Validate

Repeat-Business

Now it’s crucial to validate the time spent by the person who provided feedback as time well spent. The most common mistake made by businesses, app developers, or anybody asking for feedback is not validating the feedback they receive. Saying thank you is not enough, and can even sound like a dismissal in some instances. Tell the people who provided feedback what you plan on doing with their suggestions or to fix their complaints. Make your customers feel appreciated by explaining to them that the app has been improved thanks to their feedback. App developers should feel obligated to reach back out after any interaction with a person using their app. Whether or not you asked for feedback, it is important to show your appreciation every time it is received.

By validating feedback app developers have a wonderful opportunity to create brand advocates out of everyone who uses the app. Letting people know that their feedback helped create part of the new release creates a bond between the customer and the app, so not only will they continue to use it because they helped make it better, but they will tell their friends about the app as well. And as we all know, nothing is more effective or trusted than word-of-mouth for acquiring new customers.

• Engage

Engaging customers is the most dynamic letter in L.O.V.E. because it incorporates every other letter and is open to any innovative ideas one could have. It is important for app developers to spend time and energy engaging and developing relationships with people who use their apps. You can do this by offering discounts or invites to private betas of the app. Try sending out holiday or seasonal cards to your customers so they know that you are keeping them in mind. Consider dropping personal notes about updates and changes to the app to people who have provided feedback. Besides being personal, be creative with your messages (e.g. include a cat video link :D, or anything to bring out a smile).

Don’t let the customer have the last word in a conversation. Let the final interaction come from the developer side with a thank you note, or something as simple as wishing them a wonderful day. If need be, stay on the phone with them for 8 hours like the customer service agent from Zappos (check out the great re-enactment video).

Here are two things we like to do at Apptentive to engage others:

Be real. Real messages from real people. It is fine to give customers your personal/work e-mail and encourage them to drop a line at anytime because customers who talk to you trust you more. Provide information for them on how to stay connected with links to your blog, Facebook, twitter, or any other places where information is published to the public.

Create a presence outside your mobile app. Whatever your target audience is, host or help sponsor an event that your audience would be interested in going to. It doesn’t need to be about your app or your business. You can’t go wrong helping to nurture a community that is your target audience. If you don’t have the money to throw events, just show up to them. Being present, personal, and approachable will go a long way to helping people remember you. This also includes writing guest posts, being open to interviews, and participating in conversations around the internet.

At Apptentive the L.O.V.E. framework works great to make sure we are keeping our customers in mind as we improve our product. Each part of the framework is important as a business tries to establish itself or grow. Every time a new feature, direction, or idea is being discussed it should answer one key question. Is this something that customers want? Without our customers there would be no Apptentive. Join us in focusing on building a better mobile customer experience and sign up with Apptentive today.






IndieGameGirl

How to market your app without a budget with Indie Game Girl #AppsOnAir

Indie Game GirlHave a small (or no) marketing budget to drive installs for your mobile apps? Having trouble retaining your customer base? No worries. We addressed these problems and many more in our #AppsOnAir live hangout – How to market your app without a budget.

Emmy Jonassen joined Apptentive to share her insight on marketing for mobile game developers. She is the marketing mastermind behind Indie Game Girl, a free resource that helps indie developers build adoring fanbases with step-by-step marketing instructions. With her expertise, there was a great Q/A recorded discussing how to market your app without a budget. Watch the video and/or read the summarized answers to the questions below.

Here are the questions and summarized answers that were covered during the chat:

Q1. What research should first time *mobile* game developers do, before beginning development?

There are two key things to do.

1. Audience Research. Who is going to be your target audience? Mobile app gamers are used to free games or paying very little, so you need to make up for that through volume sales. Make sure there is a broad enough audience that makes it worthwhile to create the game you have in mind. Research potential competitors as you are all targeting the same audience. Learn from their success or failure whether there is a broad enough audience that can support your app.

2. Product Road Map. Plan out the creation of your app. For example, if you are planning to launch on X date, then you might want to start blogging on Y date to raise awareness. By creating a product road map you are able to smoothly market your app while developing it.

Q2When should your marketing efforts begin, and what should early marketing efforts include?

It is really important to start marketing from day one. The very beginning of the marketing process is knowing your target audience so that you are able to tailor your gameplay to that audience. Beyond that there are two things to focus on.

1. Building an Audience. While creating your game have an active presence on the blogs, forums, and other sites where your target audience spends their time. Utilize the social media channels and even create a blog of your own to share updates and information about the app.

2. Building a Network. Build a network of people who will promote your app. Follow the reporters, journalists, and bloggers who write about the games that you like and reach out to them before you launch. A great example of building a huge presence before their release is Sauropod Studio with their game Castle Story.

Q3What elements go into making an effective App Store download page that will drive downloads for your game?

There are 5 key elements.

1. Killer App Icon. Create an app that engages the audience that is also able to convey to the audience what the game is about. Avoid text in icons.

2. Great Description. Most people will only read the first sentence, so focus on making that first sentence as engaging as possible.

3. Benefits List. Instead of a features list, have a benefits list. People aren’t interested in the real-time rendering or physics behind the game. They want to know about what they are getting (#of levels, characters, boss battles etc.).

4. Imagery. We live in a visual world so we need to rely on engaging images that accurately portray what the app is all about. Use informative but simple image captions to help tell the story.

5. Ratings/Reviews. Ratings and reviews are the word-of-mouth marketing in the app world. Make sure you have really strong positive reviews as they show what fellow gamers thought about the game.

Q4. How can you use in-app advertising without driving alway the people who use your app?

Take ownership of how advertisements are incorporated into your game.

1. Ad Placement. Places ads in between levels or during loading screens. Try to minimize actual gameplay interruption as much as possible.

2. Be Selective. Be smart about the ads you allow in your app. Don’t incorporate low quality grainy ads that lower the overall quality look of your app and tarnish your skill as a developer.

3. CompetitorsThis should be incredibly obvious, but, do not show ads of your competitors. Driving traffic away from your app to a competitor = bad for business.

4. Testing. Be aware of how ads are affecting the session use. If the number of app sessions start to fall consider lowering the amount of times ads are placed during a session.

Q5. Do your marketing efforts end when a person downloads your game? How can you continue marketing efforts to keep them engaged even after they purchase the game?

No, the marketing never stops! This is some of the most challenging marketing to do, especially if you are a free app relying on advertising

1. Addictive Gameplay. The best way to bring back to your app is through addictive gameplay. This is where the market research that you painstakingly conducted on even before development comes into play. You know your audience, and you have tailored your gameplay to them in a way that will bring them back.

2. Frequent updates. Updating your app on a consistent basis will help keep  your audience engaged and coming back. If you forget about the people using your app they will forget about you. Frequent updates lets your audience know you are continuing to build for them, and they appreciate it.

3. Out of App Marketing. Don’t forget about your out of app marketing. Your blog, game forums, sites, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… the list goes on. Continuing to be active in your social community and other communities will help keep people in the loop about your app. These are all pieces of the solution and the best success is achieved combining all these pieces together.

Q6.  How can you drive positive ratings and reviews for your game?

1. Amazing Gamplay. It’s simple and hard at the same time, but amazing gameplay is what will undoubtedly drive in great ratings and reviews.

2. Negative Feedback. It is hard to create a game with the perfect type of gameplay for any audience, so embrace the negative feedback. Reach out to those who give you negative feedback and encourage them to share more information about what was wrong. People who post negative reviews like to be heard. App developers should try reaching out to people who leave negative feedback to make them feel important, and more importantly, involved. Show them that you have considered their feedback and improved upon it and ask for another review. Most likely the person who left negative feedback will become one of your biggest advocates because of the time you spend talking with them.

3. Friends, Family, the Network. Utilize your friends, family, and audience that you have built during development, including those more influential bloggers, journalists, and game reviewers.

4. Apptentive. Apptentive is a great tool for app developers to use to connect with their customers. Apptentive helps you intercept the negative feedback from reaching the app store, engage with your audience, and make sure that the positive ratings and reviews roll in.

Be sure to visit Indie Game Girl at www.IndieGameGirl.com, and connect with her on Twitter @IndieGameGirl and Facebook!




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App Developer Conversations: What to think about new devices from Amazon and Nokia

In this week’s App Developer Conversations with Ian Sefferman of MobileDevHQ and Ryan Morel of PlacePlay we discussed the new devices from Nokia and Amazon and talked about if app developers should care.

We had a couple key observations:

  • Microsoft and Nokia continue to be poor at sharing specifics: where are the dates and prices?
  • Amazon’s always been aggressive about pricing, now they’re being even more explicit that they don’t care about margins on their devices

Watch to find out more and be sure to see the other two segments from this week:

The Transcript:
Robi: Hello. Welcome to another edition of App Developer Conversations. I
am here with Ryan Morel of, PlacePlay, and Ian Sefferman, of
MobileDevHQ. I am Robi Ganguly, of Apptentive. This week we are
going to talk about various introductions on the platforms, from
the hardware perspective, and how to think some more about
platform decisions.

To kick it off, a couple of new devices have come out this week,
that are a big deal, one from Microsoft/Nokia and one from
Amazon. Do you want to talk a little bit about the new Lumia
device from Nokia and what it means for Windows Phone 8?

Ryan: I think it is clearly a really nice device, they look great, and
obviously, they take good advantage of Windows Phone 8, which is
a beautiful operating system. It is still the same problem that
Microsoft and Nokia have had for the last year, they announce
something, there is no pricing, no distribution, or no date, so
it is much ado about nothing at this point. For them, that is
the last thing they can really afford. They have to make an
impact and make an impact quickly if they want to be meaningful
in the market.

Robi: What are your thoughts?

Ian: I think that is exactly right. It is such a beautiful platform and
they are such beautiful devices, but nobody cares so what is the
big deal? It is not going to affect anybody’s lives at this
point. I think that Amazon’s announcement was way more
interesting for virtually everybody, certainly in this room, and
probably watching this. Kindle is on fire, and the new Kindle
devices are awesome and really intriguing, and Amazon’s strategy
as a whole is really interesting. I just like the fact that they
have changed up the business model to the whole
hardware/software platform. I am super-excited about those.

Robi: I think that just over the last 48 hours, watching the way that these
two companies approach their announcements, what they are doing,
and how they are executing is really instructive. On one side we
got Microsoft/Nokia having this huge event and saying, ‘These
great things are coming. Look at it. Wow. We got no date, no
pricing, but hold your breath. Then we got Amazon that says, in
the same way that Apple does, ‘Here is this awesome stuff. Let
us blow you away with some stats on how it is working, and how
many people are now reading books on these devices versus
actually buying books, and you can order it this afternoon. Here
is an email and here is a link to do it.’ It is just a very
different delivery.

Ian: It is clear that Jeff Bezos is the heir to Steve Jobs’s throne, in
terms of anybody else in the world who has the presentation
power and celebrity status, Jeff is the only one out there, I
think.

Ryan: Yes, and rock star presentation, I would agree. I am not sure that I
would agree, in terms of strategy and what the product produces.
Amazon has done a fantastic job, there is no question about
that, they are the only company that can compete with Apple, in
terms of distribution, but I don not look at any Amazon device
and say, ‘I want that.

I think the services are nice, but it does not necessarily blow
me away, from a hardware perspective. Maybe the new Kindle Fire
will be that way, but I do think, to your point Ian, it is a
fascinating flip of the business model and following the app
market’s [inaudible: 03:43]. ‘We are going to give this stuff
away for nothing,’ not nothing, ‘And try to make money on
services.’ I think the question for them becomes, can they
really make enough money on content to get their margins to a
place where they need to be in order to scale that to big
numbers? I do not know. How much content do people really buy?

Ian: The interesting thing is that Amazon does not care about margins.
Unlike almost every other company, Amazon says, We are OK with
2% margins as long, as we do it on $100 billion of revenue.’

Robi: That is right.

Ryan: They are going to have to start caring at some point though, it is
inevitable. Right now, their stock price is heavily inflated, so
unless they start showing margin growth, that is going to go the
other way. Maybe they can keep selling the story to investors,
‘All these online services are going to make money over time,’
but as you move down the timeline, it becomes a harder sell.

Robi: I think they think of themselves as Walmart. If they are the next
generation of the store that everybody goes to, which it seems
in many ways, online, they already are, then margins do not
matter as much if you got the breadth and the coverage,
globally. I think as an app developer, what is really
interesting is that not only are they bringing you this stuff in
a way that is similar to Apple, in terms of saying, ‘Here it is.
It is ready and you can order it,’ but they are also saying,
‘And we are awesome at taking credit cards. We are going to make
you a lot more money.’ That is not a piece that is coming in the
Microsoft/Nokia story about new devices, about how many people
are making money. Steve Ballmer’s comment about the next big
game is going to be on Windows 8 seems to ring hollow when you
look at actual numbers of how many people are buying things on
these various platforms.

Ryan: I think, just in my head as we are talking about this, there are two
big announcements: Nokia/Microsoft and Amazon. We have spent all
of our time so far talking about Amazon. That shows how little .
. . we just do not know anything about the Nokia/Microsoft
stuff. No developer, do developers even have the SDK so they can
start developing for Windows 8? The Lumia is going to come out,
and people say, ‘It is a beautiful device.’ There are no apps,
other than ones that Microsoft paid hundreds of thousands of
dollars for, and there is a new iPhone, and all these new great
Kindle devices.

Robi: I think that wraps up our first piece, talking about the new devices
and stuff that has come out this week. Stay tuned for our next
segment, where we discuss platform decisions and how you should
be approaching it.

Ian: How does a developer choose which platform they should go for first,
between iOS, Android, Amazon, Microsoft, and even in there
perhaps between . . .

lean

The lean app developer and customer communication

Lean App Developer

Being lean = less waste

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there’s another great piece on the importance of “Being Lean.” Learning from Eric Ries, Steve Blank, David Cohen & Brad Feld and many others really drives home the point that startups should move faster, focus on developing customers and testing hypotheses. We are huge proponents of the lean methodology, as evidenced by our presentation at the Lean Startup Seattle pitch event.

They’re not just lessons in books, however – every successful app developer we’re working with has an incredible focus on 3 important things:

  • Finding their core customers,
  • Figuring out how to make them happier,
  • Focusing on the things they care about the most.

A major benefit of the lean methodology is that you AVOID building features that customers don’t want. We think that this is extremely relevant to app developers because users expect applications to just work. The more complex you make your app in a vacuum, the more hypotheses you’re making about users’ wants and needs. This tends to result in apps that are confusing and overly burdensome on new app users. So, we urge you to keep your apps simple to begin with and to learn and grow with your customers in order to be more successful and efficient.

Customer service & communication: your secret weapon

At Apptentive, we are driven to provide powerful yet simple tools for direct customer communication so that app developers can build the best apps possible. When done well, customers don’t need to be “sold” or “marketed to”, they just need to try your app out for themselves and let it speak to them. Customer communication is absolutely vital to the process of innovation: it allows you to learn. Information directly from consumers about what’s working for them and what is causing friction helps you assess your execution against your goals.

We came across an interview with Eric Ries on the Assistly blog that was incredibly relevant to how we think about customer communication and app development. Eric addresses why customer service is critical to learning (emphasis ours):

ABS: How would you rate the role of customer service and support in the lean startup?

It’s very, very important, but it must be understood correctly. In larger companies customer service is seen as a cost center, a necessary evil, not related to the mission. Marketing and product development are outbound functions, and customer service is seen strictly as inbound. That’s extremely shortsighted because we’re really better off trying to have a deep understanding of the customer and their behaviors. Customer service is really a learning function.

We can do so much more to integrate support into product development to tighten that loop. It’s easy to say but hard to do. Most companies do not have a way to value this “validated learning.” At the end of the day you can have all your slogans, but what are you actually doing?  You need actionable data. That’s why I advocate the tenets of the lean startup—rapid experimentation, shorter development cycles, and measuring actual progress to learn what customers really want.

Learning from customers has never been easier

Today’s consumer environment has trained people to speak up and share their thoughts and opinions any time, any where. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, their blog or directly in your app, customers expect to be heard when they speak up. This means that as an app developer you have a huge advantage: simple solicitations of feedback are consistent with user expectations. You don’t have to teach customers to help you out – they’re ready and waiting for you to ask and listen.

Your opportunity awaits you – are you going to trust Eric, Steve, Brad, David and the rest of the people urging you to listen to your customers?

(for those of you totally unfamiliar with the lean startup principles, we suggest stepping through the slides below, they’re very helpful and a quick overview)

Lean Startup presentation for Maples Investments by Steve Blank and Eric Ries

View more presentations from Eric Ries









App developers: stop obsessing over downloads

imageThe team over at GigaOm has been really crushing it lately, highlighting the importance of user experience and the importance of software that evokes emotions, like happiness[link]. Both Om and Ryan Kim have been pointing to the overwhelming use of statistics and numbers as marketing “crutches”. Ryan writes in his piece, “Please, app makers, give me more than download stats” that:

It seems I get a daily email boasting about an app and its millions of downloads. It starts to feel like a game of one-upmanship, as startups jockey for bragging rights over the maximum number of downloads in the shortest amount of time.

On one hand, I think it’s great to see apps thriving and startups coming out of nowhere with encouraging success stories. But at the same time, I’m starting to get tired of — and a little skeptical about — these numbers. Yes, saying you can get millions of downloads is noteworthy, but what I want to hear is how many of these users are still around in a week, a month, after six months, and how often are they engaging? Basically, I want more information than a simple download number can give.

YES, YES, YES!

In our quest to help app developers connect with their consumers and make better apps we are always asking how valuable any one app is to the consumer. Our belief is that we’re sprinting towards a reality in which there is infinite consumer software. Sure, your app might be able to get a huge amount of downloads and garner a significant amount of “buzz”, but what are those downloads worth to you if most people try your app out once and never think about it again?

Instead of focusing on downloads on touting those numbers when talking about your app, we’d love to see app developers talking about:

  1. Monthly active users
  2. What an average active user looks like in terms of usage. Games and utilities tend to have very different user profiles.
  3. How they’re iterating on their app in order to be more successful with the people who install their app.

If we, as an industry, are to evolve beyond the idea that apps are cheap and disposable, we need to be talking about the deeper stories behind apps – who’s using them and why. As Ryan and Om both suggest, the simple story told by the download metric is a story that implies that the importance of app development is in getting a download, not in meeting real consumer needs. At Apptentive, we believe that the real work in app development lies in successfully providing software that consumers want, are delighted by and ultimately, love.

So, developers, we challenge you to talk more about your serious, returning consumers and to tell us about how you’re working to meet their needs. We’d love to hear in the comments about stories you have about figuring out when you’ve really resonated with a consumer and what it taught you about how to make your next version even better.

App developers for multiple platforms need to plan ahead

 

Jon Evans wrote an open letter to Apple and Google on behalf of iOS and Android developers. It’s an elegant letter with many strong insights into some of the limitations on each platform that are really hindering app developers. We wanted to point you in its direction in order to highlight a few key points that we think are important to all app developers:

    1. Developing an app on a platform binds you to the platform’s strengths and weaknesses.
      As Jon highlights at the beginning of his post, many of the reasons for an app being deficient can be traced back to the design of the platform it has been built on. No garbage collection on iOS means the developers have to commit to being very diligent about memory management.
    2.  Developing for multiple platforms means that you have to be more thoughtful in order to provide a similar experience across platforms.
      If you’re releasing apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 at the same time and want your apps to be very similar, it’s important that you plan ahead and take into account the differences in the platforms that might impact your design decisions. We’ve seen many an app that was designed for iOS and then “ported” to Android suffer from an expectation that they would be able to accomplish the same UI tricks and polish. It’s much easier to plan ahead and understand how the limitations will translate in your design than to be working on a hackish fix at the nth hour.
    3. For now, at least, the most flexible development machine is a MacBook.
      As Jon points out, it’s impossible to develop iOS apps on anything other than a Mac, which is a real shame. This means, however, that if you’re a developer, looking around at new hardware, you should probably be looking at the MacBook Pros if you plan on releasing any iOS developers. It’s hard to keep track of the number of developers we’ve talked with who haven’t realized this until a bit too late.

Are you an app developer for multiple platforms? Let us know in the comments what else you’d recommend to your peers in terms of planning and resources. Developing great apps is tough enough without having to worry about all of the ins and outs of each platform Smile.