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May 092011

Most successful mobile applications have a handful of traits in common. When developing a mobile app (iOS, Android, etc) it’s important to remember that you’re developing it to be USED. If it doesn’t exhibit several of the characteristics below, it doesn’ t necessarily mean it won’t be useful, but it probably won’t be as penetrating in the market.

  • K.I.S.S. – I’m an engineer and spend 90% of my time in front of a computer. Most of you probably spend a large portion of your time in front of a screen, grew up playing video games (or still enjoy doing so), and would feel pretty capable of figuring out new control and interaction schemes. It is therefore mind-numbingly impressive how many utilities and entertainment apps have back-asswards user interfaces, the the point where a user uninstalls the app before discovering it’s full capability. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID! Small screens, limited physical controls, gyroscopes and on-screen controls are all great, but they’ve got to be balanced and used in such a way as to enhance instead of detract. Building a classy business app? Your users probably won’t want to be shaking their phones up and down to interact while in a meeting. Writing a utility to lookup train schedules? If your users wanted to churn through endless tables using a single button on screen, they’d probably just opt for the paper version of the schedule. Developers must exhibit creative restraint when writing the UI. Just because some cool feature exists doesn’t mean it should be used incessantly.

  • App A.D.D. – This pertains more to game/entertainment styles of mobile applications. Most users do not interact with games on their phones like RPG fans do with their console games. The game should be divided into small, bite-sized pieces. If the user has to remember the story for the game to make sense, or remember what they did in a previous puzzle to solve the one their currently stuck on, they will quickly lose interest. Make your app memorable, but don’t make memory a requirement for successful gameplay.

  • Achievements – This is perhaps one of the most efficient ways to ensure good replay value. If an app offers a competitive achievement system by which users can see what they’ve done in the app (be it a game, geocaching tool, or exercise tracker). Engineers love data. Non-engineers love simplified data presented in easy to understand trends. Linking awards and achievements to the users data makes replaying or reusing the app a fun and rewarding experience.

  • Don’t be annoying – One of the surest ways to lose a customer/user base is to be intrusive or annoying. Don’t inundate users with inconvenient ads. Don’t send millions of notifications. Don’t hijack their facebook page to send their friends messages like “HEY! I JUST GOT A COW FOR MY FARM! I BET YOU LIKE COWS TOO! DOWNLOAD THIS GAME!!!!!!!11!!one!”. If your game or utility is built correctly and is genuinely useful, you don’t need to resort to annoying marketing tactics. If YOU wouldn’t use your app, what makes you think anyone else would? Design something that you would enjoy using, and always have the user in mind.

    Keep these 4 traits in mind while you are developing. This list isn’t exhausted, and could probably use expansion, so if you have a useful trait that developers should keep in mind, add it to the comments below!

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