On whim, I decided to fly to San Fransisco for VentureBeat’s 5th Annual MobileBeat Conference. In attendance were industry heavyweights like Mark Pincus, the Founder & CEO of Zynga, Aaron Levie from Box, and Dave Morin from Path. With thought leaders like, this I was hoping for some awesome tactics for how to better build a mobile app.
What I found though, was that most of the “fireside chats” spoke in generalities and high level strategies. This was disappointing, because I wanted to leave the conference with a bunch of actionable ideas.
Even though most of the chats were more high level strategy than nitty-gritty best practices, there were definitely some key takeaways that I would like to share with you.
Here are six strategies to consider when making your next Android app.
1) Design with Social in Mind - Mark Pincus (Zynga)
“If they play with friends they are more likely to come back” said Mark. This sounds like common sense, but when he said it, something just clicked with me.
You can tell from the name of their apps, Words with Friends, Hanging with Friends, Scramble with Friends, that being social is a large part of Zynga’s mobile strategy. Zynga makes games that people HAVE to share. Yes, their games are addicting, but they also encourage their users to be social.
Take a look at the image below. I haven’t used this app in months, yet they make it very easy for me to continue games right where I left off.
What’s great about focusing on sharing is that it helps solve the problem of user adoption.
How will people find out about your Android app? Well, if you build features that encourage sharing then your users will do the marketing for you.
The takeaway: If it makes sense, design with a social component in mind. Apps that are social are automatically more sharable, because that’s part of playing the app.
2) Deciding what Metrics to Measure is Simple
During a panel discussion at MobileBeat, an audience member asked how to decide what metrics are truly important to measure.
The panel answered that question with a question of their own: ”What’s the core behavior that you want your user to do?”
For example, the core behavior for Gmail is to send and read emails. If people are not sending or reading emails then you have a problem. To improve the success of your app you must increase the desired core behavior. In the case of Gmail this means increasing the number of emails that are sent and read.
Now that you know your goal you can focus on optimizing your app for this behavior, and you can check this metric to measure your improvement.
The takeaway: Figure out the core behaviors you want your users to do, and use that metric to measure your app’s progress.
3) Plan to Make Money from the Start
Trying to monetizing your app is a problem that many app developers struggle with. To make things easier on yourself, you should consider, from the beginning, how you plan to make money from your app.
Most people just come up with an idea for an app, and then try to deal with monetization later. But that only creates more work for you in the long run, because you’ll have to adapt your pricing model to your app instead of designing them both to work together.
Example – you have a free recipe sharing app. It’s brilliant, and you have thousands of downloads. But there are also hundreds of different recipe apps out there. Why is someone going to pay for your app?
If you impose a 30 day free trial after everyone had been using your app for 6 months, you’ll probably get some unhappy people. What are you going to do now that you’ve set the user’s expectations to free? It’s much easier to set the expectations from the beginning.
Starting with the end in mind allows you to weave monetization into your design instead of adding it on the end. If you have considered what model makes sense for you app, the end result should be a much more cohesive and polished product.
The takeaway: Start by thinking about the different ways to make money with an Android app (You do want to make money, right?). There are several ways to monetize an app including; Paid version, Freemium model (recommended), Free-Trial, or Ad-supported app. Then figure out what makes sense for your app and your own personal preferences.
4) People Only Use One Screen – Dave Morin (Path)
When Path re-launched, it had a bunch of screens users could thumb through. It was beautifully designed; however, after looking at their data, Path determined that the majority of people were only using their home screen. This meant that features and settings on other screens were being unused.
Path relaunched a new version removing these screen and immediately saw an increase in user engagement.
The takeaway: I’m not sure if this works for all apps, but it’s something to consider if you app has multiple pages. Figure out your key metric (point 2), and see if that improves when you simplify the amount of screens users have access to.
5) Is Your User Still a Novice?
During a breakout session at MobileBeat, the panel introduced the idea of a player life-cycle. This is the idea that your user’s experience changes over time. They said that users evolve from novices to intermediate and advanced, as they become more experienced with the navigation and function of you app.
Building an app that takes advantage of this knowledge requires that you create conditions for a user to grow with your app.
Consider the progress you want a user to experience. Then enable triggers, notifications, goals, badges, ect. that reminder users of that progress. Allow the user to grow and adapt with your app to create an enriching experience.
In considering the progress your user makes with your app you an inherently building a more dynamic app. If done correctly, your app will provide the same level of value to a novice as to an expert. Think Angry Birds.
This is a pretty complex topic, and I’d love to do a full post on it when I learn more. But for now, it’s best to at least keep it in mind as you design your Android app.
The takeaway: Consider some of the following questions: How has a user been transformed? What does it mean for a user to make progress? How do they know that they are building a skill?
6) Don’t Give Your Users Reasons to Ignore You – Tom Conrad (Pandora)
Simplicity was a recurring theme at Mobile Beat 2012 (see point 4). But I thought Tom from Pandora gave me the best reason why. He said,
“The more complicated the app, the more excuses people will have to ignore you.”
Pandora keeps it simple. Because of this, users are able to explain what Pandora does to their Grandma in a single sentence, instead of saying, “oh, and it does this, that, and the other.”
When you look at their app, you can see that they take this message seriously. Pandora could integrate a concert schedule of artists or sell concert tickets, or any number of ideas, but they don’t. They play music.
The takeaway: KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). It’s easy to let feature creep happen, but if huge companies like Pandora can have lazer-like focus, then small Android app developers like you and I can too.
Final Thoughts and Questions
Overall, the content from MobileBeat 2012 was disappointing. The “fireside chat” format encouraged people to “read between the lines” rather than wait for presenters to explicitly state what works for them. I wanted tactics, and I ended up with strategies. However, as you can see, there were still some good nuggets of information.
Questions for you:
- Have you ever used Path’s mobile app?
- What do you think about Dave’s “one screen” idea?
Image credit: mr_o