Top 10 App Quality Monsters: Part 1

Monster-Icon-by-Igor-TorresApps really are different. Some folks look at app quality and say “it’s just another platform”, or “It’s just like….”. They are wrong. Your app’s quality is highly dependent on these 10 app-specific monsters. Monsters because they are the biggest issues in mobile, and bigger issues than Desktop and Web quality monsters. Ignore them at your peril. Here is a quick intro to each:

“App”: an application distributed through an App store. Examples: Google Play, iTunes, Google Chrome Web Store, and the Windows App Store.

Deployment Monster: With desktop applications and web sites, you shipped when you felt like it. Sometimes once a year, sometimes hourly. With app stores, sometimes you can’t even ship at all if the app store doesn’t like your app. If users find nasty bugs after you launch, your fixes go out when the app store feels like it. You also don’t own the presentation of your app: you get a few screenshots, logo, and one big textbox to cram all your marketing and user messaging inside. The app store also happily hosts all the negative feedback and puts a star rating next to your companies logo for billions to see. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry much about the mechanics of deployment anymore. Make sure you test your app out before launch, and when you see bad stuff, get a build ready and in the deployment queue quickly before too many people notice and give too many 1-star reviews.

Device State and Fragmentation Monster: Most apps live on tablets or phones. Yes, some live on desktops and some in Chrome or Firefox , and Apple still even has a cute little web app store somewhere, but the tablets and phones are where all the downloads happen. Mobile devices come in more physical varieties than PC’s today: CPU, RAM, screen DPI, resolution and physical size, etc. Often your apps are running on devices you never heard of, in countries you might not have heard of. These devices are running a wide variety of OS versions, and OEM customizations.

The OS powering these devices is also mean. Web and Desktop applications favored the app developer—-if you wrote a while(1) { … } in your app, the desktop, laptop or browser would happily slow the system and other apps down. Not on mobile. The Mobile OS’s are looking for an excuse to kill your app and make your users sad. These devices are technically ‘supercomputers’, but if your app uses too much RAM (amount not documented and changes!) or doesn’t respond to touches immediately, your app will be closed automatically and your users will blame your app. Test Test Test on a variety of devices, OS versions, and keep your app’s memory footprint to a minimum, and never slow the user down.

User Monster: App users are persnickety. On the web, we forgive bugs by ‘refreshing’ the browser, and blame the slow network. On desktop applications, they were always clunky things where the user expected to read a manual. On mobile devices, users launch your app while in line at Starbucks and expect to understand how to play the game and be done by the time they get to the register and pay with their Starbucks app. If they can’t use your app with just their thumb while carrying their Grande Vanilla Macchiato while walking to the bus stop, they get frustrated and delete you. Your app has very little time to impress on first use, and very little time to complete any action. Design and test for this. You also don’t get to pick your user. You can’t just distribute your app to existing paid customers for your niche product—anyone can download it, get confused, and complain about it. Some of the best reviews are people complaining that games are just way too easy because they are so good. App users even complain about wanting to pay for apps that are free, but ad-supported. You just can’t win them all, but you should try. On mobile devices, its far tougher to make users happy.

Real World Monster: Web and desktop applications used to just run in a web browser or desktop OS with a large power supply, steady network connection, connected to mice and keyboards, and sitting on a desk. Modern apps run on devices that parents throw from the front to back seat to appease their whining daughter. Apps run on devices that are in planes, trains, and automobiles. They are also on construction sites, at the beach, on top of a mountain, and on cruise ships. Apps are clawed at by house cats because they show pictures of fish. Apps are used on slow networks, switching cell towers at 70mph, or plugged into an alarm clock. Apps run on devices that aren’t plugged in and about out of power. They run on devices full of other apps playing audiobooks in the background or trying to access the flashbulb at the same time. You need to think about all the ways your app will be used in the real world.

Stay tuned for the rest of the app quality monsters in “Top 10 App Quality Monster: Part 2″.

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