Tips and traps for iPhone apps
by Keris Lahiff
Is your business ready for an iPhone app? With so many apps available for mobile phones and tablets, creating something memorable, reflective of your brand and, perhaps most importantly, functional is on every business’ wishlist. So how can you ensure yours is all of the above and more? iPhone apps were on the agenda at the Mumbrella360 Conference in May 2011.
“In Australia at the moment, there’s 3.2 million iPhone users. They are saying that will jump up another 100,000 when the iPhone5 comes out,” says Kim McKay, director of Klick Communications.
“A lot of businesses, agencies themselves, are all saying ‘I need an iPhone app’,” she says. “Not many of them know why they need it or how they’d market it.”
Designing the app
Paul Lin, CEO and founder of Buuna, a location-based app for the travel market, says the possibilities of mobile apps are endless. But just because you can do it all, does this mean you should do it all? No, says Lin, the key to a successful iPhone app is simplicity and functionality, above novelty.
“They’re not websites on the phone, nor are they books or magazines or any sort of existing desktop software that you can just copy and paste on the phone,” says Lin, speaking at the 2011 Mumbrella360 conference. “If you do that for your business, it’s not actually going to represent your brand or product properly, because it’s simply a different medium, the way you use it and the time when you use it.”
Co-founder of Nomad, David McGowan agrees. “A lot of apps that come out nowadays are a mobile-version of a website that’s in a convenient mobile format, maybe with a couple extra user interfaces or solutions relevant to the iPhone.”
Think of an app more like an ATM, says Lin. Similar to how an ATM offers only a small subset of the features of a bank branch, so too should an app only offer simple, specific goals for the user – or essentially, “the functionality that’s most important to the user at the point and place in time”.
“People forget this and try to put too much of their business into the software and then it actually confuses the user, makes it not very usable and they just give up and won’t use it,” says Lin.
“To create something like this, you really have to know your business, your goals, and your user and how they think and how they want to use it. And most importantly, what you’re not, because it’s really all about simplifying it, cutting out the features that you don’t need and keeping what you really want to focus on,” he says.
Determining what you’re not
As a travel app, there was a lot Lin and his team at Buuna could have done. But Lin says it’s equally as important to map out what you want to steer clear of to avoid overcomplicating your app.
“Part of figuring out what you want to do is what you don’t want to do,” says Lin. “There’s a lot we could do. But we don’t want to be a guidebook on the phone … we’re not trying to get you the cheapest airfares or hotel accommodation.”
By not ‘doing-it-all’, the user is more likely to engage with your app. Going the straight and narrow will actually make for better design.
“Part of good design is keeping it simple and just saying we need to focus on our core features, core business,” he says. “It’s a very simple process. We’re really just focusing on an ATM-like flow – so you’re pushing the user one step at a time.”
Build a world
Nomad’s McGowan led the charge in building the multi-award-winning Taronga Zoo app. Speaking at the 2011 Mumbrella360 Conference, McGowan says the trick is to think big, research and plan, plan, plan.
“Rather than try and start with the really fun stuff – ‘what should our really big idea be?’ – take a step back and look at where the mobile behaviour of your audience intersect with the brand,” he says. “That’s the most important foundation you can lay, because there’s a lot of different things you can do in mobile and there’s only a few of them that are actually highly relevant to the user.”
And always, always give yourself plenty of time for obstacles (because, as with all things IT, they are more of a ‘when’, not an ‘if’).
“Give yourself enough time to go through that user journey as the user and then you’ll discover a lot of additional things,” says McGowan. We can never say that we’re going to be able to predict this because it’s really a hands-on experience so don’t underestimate the requirement for comprehensive blueprinting. During this complicated journey, you really need to have a solid foundation to draw back on, so you need to budget for proper blueprinting phases.”
After conducting focus groups to understand the audience, the team at Nomad determined that an app centred on user-generated content was the best way to engage with users. The end result, the Taronga Zoo Monkey Mayhem app, is a game users could play while they discovered the zoo, unlocking content and taking photos while they explore.
“For kids, user-generated content is king. When you’re using user-generated content like photos and videos, the interaction rate is going to increase,” he says.
And, importantly, don’t skimp on the design.
“Kids hate crap design and they’ll run away from it,” says McGowan. “If you’re creating your own content, you need to have good design.” Of course, kids aren’t the only ones.
He also warns that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Build upon the readily available design products and analysis tools already on the market.
“There’s so many incredible third-party tools that are on the shelf now that we can mash up together to create great solutions and Google is obviously one of the biggest ones. Maps is great because for mobile, it’s all about location,” tips McGowan.
Another, Google Analytics, allows app developers to measure their audience’s interaction, including what device they are using to access, where they are accessing from, and how long they are spending within an app.
“This will give you a summary of who your audience is and the percentage of your total interactions,” he says. “You can see it evolving over time.”
Making it big
McGowan says you can’t just create an app and expect the users to flock. Like any other business activity, you need to market it.
One sure-fire way to make a hit? Partner with Apple’s App Store.
“We developed a really great relationship with Apple,” he says. “They ran this in their App Store and from that we got fantastic results. The exposure you get in this is enormous, so if you can make some slight changes to guarantee yourself a spot in there, you’re going to win.”
In fact, downloads for the Taronga Zoo app were fairly slow until they were featured in the App Store, at which point demand exploded.
“Went number one in its category, number three in all games, was getting 4500 to 5000 downloads a week in its first period,” lists McGowan. “It’s had around 65,000 downloads since.
“The important thing for an app is that it’s a very interactive experience, it’s engaging. It’s long-term, if you do it right,” surmises McGowan.
“Understand your business, understand your users, understand what you want to do,” says Lin. “Keep it simple, keep the flow simple.”
- Don’t try to do too much. Focus on an ATM-like flow, from one step to the next.
- Aim for simplicity and functionality, over novelty.
- Don’t simply cut and paste from your website. Understand the medium.
- Know your business, your customers, and how you can develop something that reflects your brand.
- Decide what you don’t want to do. This is as important as what you do want to do.
- Before deciding on the what of your app, look at the who – who are your audience and how do they use their smartphones?
- Give yourself ample development time.
- Never skimp on design – no one will tolerate something that looks cheap.
- Use products already on the market to assist in development and analysis.
- Market it!
Published on: Thursday, July 21, 2011