While a wealth of analytics tools gives us increasingly detailed views into how users navigate through our systems, services and apps, there’s no metric that tells you how your users were feeling at the time. In fact many of the terms that we measure for technology services, such as bounce rate, retention and number of pages viewed, all act as a stand in for how users were feeling – and one emotion in particular: frustration.
Frustration is the silent killer of technology businesses. It’s the feeling that causes users to close the screen, or worse delete the app, without giving you any idea as to why. Sometimes frustration can build over time, meaning that a series of frustrations can lead to a developer mis-attributing the source of lost users. Of course you can survey your users, run user tests and look to your app reviews for indications as to how people felt about your service, but by the time someone has become frustrated or annoyed it’s unlikely they want to spend additional time providing feedback.
However there is one metric that, at least in the mobile app world, can often be a strong indicator of the building level of frustration of your users – and that is time.
Coming from a web marketing world, where “time on page” was a key metric that web owners tried to optimize for, not against, it’s a fairly significant change in thinking. But with such limited real estate on a mobile app screen, there’s not a huge amount to occupy a user’s time on functional pages – such as screens to sign up, options, invite or settings. Increased time spent on these screens can signal that something is overly complicated, difficult to understand or generally frustrating for the user.
There are a number of tools that help app developer measure time spent per screen, although all have limitations and a fair bit of set up required. The one that gives the best indication is Google Analytics for Mobile:
However to get an accurate reading for this metric, Google requires a lot of advanced set up, including detailed naming of all of the screens within your app. Additionally, Google is great for looking at average results across your whole audience but has significant limitations for drilling down into your audience – it’s much harder to see who is having trouble with your app screens and the range of times it takes different segments of your audience to move through your app.
An alternative is Mixpanel which doesn’t allow you to see the average time that users spend on a specific screen, but does allow you to see the time it takes for user to move through a series of predefined steps in, say, a sign up funnel.
Like Google, Mixpanel requires some initial set up, but allows for much greater segmentation of your userbase, to determine which subsets of your users are taking the most time to get through your app. For many independent developers, however, Mixpanel’s higher costs can be off-putting.
Regardless of how you measure the time that users spend on various screens within the app or service, this us an often under-utilized metric that tells you quite a bit about how frustrated or confused your users are. If a screen that takes you 15-20 seconds to pass through has an average use time of over a minute, your audience could be missing the point, unable to find a button or unsure of what to do.
Using time as a proxy for frustration in your app or service can help highlight places where you’re causing users to fall out of love with your product, even if it’s not the place where they give up on your app entirely.
A quick one before a more thorough summary of my week at Mobile World Congress – I gave this talk as part of the Advanced User Interfaces Seminar at Mobile World Congress 2014 (#mwc14) hosted by the UK’s ICT KTN. It covers the challenges and proposes some solutions in designing and testing apps and mobile services geared towards a non-traditional audience such as elderly, disabled or young users.
I was recently quoted in an article rounding up predictions for mobile in 2014 (20 Mobile Industry Expert Predictions for 2014). There were a lot of comments about mobile commerce, mobile marketing budgets increasing and tracking, but no one else seemed to share my prediction:
Building 23snaps has been an amazing learning experience in so many ways, but none more-so than the wake up call that the vast majority of consumers, across any market, are not tech-savvy millennials who will forgive UI inconveniences for the sake of using the latest technology. At 23snaps, many of our users are using a technology other than email for enjoying family photos for the very first time. That can be hard enough for them on the computer, but add a new smartphone into the mix and suddenly there are a lot of our customers who need, if not hand-holding, some excellent sign-posting to help them figure out what to do next.
I would like to think that I’m not the only one who noticed this trend. As I mentioned in my prediction, iOS 7 was a jarring experience for many users. In fact the AARP, a membership community and non-profit for US over-50s, actively discouraged its members from upgrading to iOS 7 as late as 30 October, 2013 (iOS 7 was released in June). They said:
“The font is very light and may be hard to read for some. The icons appear flat and move quickly across the screen, causing some people to report dizziness.”
If Apple thinks this recommendation from AARP is no big deal, they should check the membership roster. AARP has over 40 million members.
But the bias towards user interface design that favors the tech-savvy is pervasive through the entire industry – and at times this is dramatic enough to confuse even the millennials. Look, for example, at the Facebook ‘Other’ inbox, for most people a hidden repository of lost birthday wishes, invitations and requests.
An enormous audience has access now to technology that should make their lives easier in every way. But instead the applications and services available leave many of them confused and frustrated. In the last few years, the audience of non-digital natives using the latest technology has become the majority but products and services aren’t catering to them, missing out on profit and growth opportunities.
2014 needs to be the year that designers and developers begin considering the experience for someone who doesn’t understand that three horizontal lines means ‘Menu’ or that an eight-pointed star means ‘News Feed,’ or even what a ‘News Feed’ is. There is a balance to be struct between spoonfeeding digital natives, but creating a beautiful, usable product, that signposts the most important elements for those who are discovering them for the first time.
I’m thrilled with the response my Monday Mobile Marketing tips received last year, and with over six months of content, there’s quite a bit in there. But given I’ve covered a lot of the basics already, I’d like to branch out when it comes to blog and mobile industry topics. This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and is pretty much guaranteed to raise some strong alternative opinions.
I believe that, for a small, independent developer who wants to launch on a second platform after iOS, developing for Windows (8 or Phone) is a much easier process and better bet for the company in the short term than Android.
Let me break down this potentially heretical statement.
Windows, like iOS, lets you control what your customers see.
The fragmentation in the Android market has grown exponentially – from just under 4,000 different consumer Android devices in 2012 to almost 12,000 in 2013. That’s potentially 12,000 different screen sizes, types of screen hardware (did you know that your app’s colors render differently depending on how the screen is made), or types of skins manufacturers use to distinguish the device? Each variation could lead to a significantly altered appearance of your app. Some teams will test their Android apps on up to 4oo different devices to ensure that the experience is the same for all users.
Windows OS on the other hand, utilizes the structure in their slightly unique design paradigm (with the horizontal scrolling through menus and content types) to ensure the experience is consistent across devices. Added to that, the consistency in manufacturing will mean, for the most part, there will be no distortion of colors and layouts. A Windows 8 laptop and a Surface Pro user are both going to have identical experiences on their Windows 8 app.
So the question for small independent developers becomes: would you like to design once and ensure your users see what you intent, or design once and test on over 400 devices making constant tweaks to your APK for each device supported?
Windows hardware will operate consistently across devices.
Let me reiterate: your users can choose from almost 12,000 different Android devices. If you think visual appearance is your biggest problem, think again.
Each Android device can bring with it slight (or dramatic) variations in how the operating system and the hardware interact. The operating system of the Galaxy S-series, one of the most popular phones on the market, has their own, non-standard methods of interacting with the video recording hardware. This means that you need to modify your APK for Galaxy S-series users otherwise any functionality you have in your Android app that accesses video recording could fail.
Video not a big deal? What about the Nexus 7, the most popular Android tablet, which has custom operating methods to interact with the camera hardware as the tablet has no back-facing camera?
Unlike the cosmetic problems that can be more of an annoyance, these hardware and OS inconsistencies can cause loss of core functionality, or cause your app to fail all together.
Windows, like iOS, is for now an operating system only available through certain manufacturers who keep the OS and hardware interactions consistent. When you develop for Windows, you know that the functionality you provide users will work no matter which Windows Phone or 8 device they are using.
With a need for more developers, Windows can help promote your App.
It’s no secret that Windows has been working hard to get more developers to create content for the Windows App Store (even going so far as to bribe developers with cash). The Google Play store, on the other hand, rivals Apple in terms of sheer volume of Apps available.
This can work in your favor. The Windows team is eager to support its fledgling developer community in a number of ways. We’ve found the team to be highly engaged with our app – to a degree we could never expect from Apple or Google – which has led to numerous opportunities for promotion and growth.
Better to be a first mover and on good terms with the Windows App Store process and team than to miss out on the opportunity to build early support for your Windows app.
Windows OS on mobile devices is gaining traction in the market.
Depending on what you read, the Windows Phone is on it’s way up… or on it’s way out. Despite the mixed market signals, there are a number of signs mobile developers should take a chance on the Windows operating system.
2012 was Windows Phone’s strongest year yet, and while 2013 didn’t quite live up to expectations overall, their Q3 reports had tech journalists praising the affordable phone as the fastest growing phone operating system in the market (yes, beating iOS and Android). Also, by the end of 2013, analysts were becoming positively impressed by the Surface and Surface Pro tablets’ market growth.
Regardless of how fast you think the Windows mobile OS market is growing in the future, it’s suggested that there are over 125 million Windows 8 users globally (that’s bigger than Apple’s OS X entire user base by almost 2x by the way) – a market that any independent developer shouldn’t sneeze at, particularly if there is much less competition to access it.
Ok… there are some downsides.
Of course, when it comes to developing for a new platform, whether you’re choosing Android, Windows or web, there are always downsides to each. While I believe that Windows is a much better bet for independent developers that Android, there are some downsides compared to the Google OS.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly to most developers, the design paradigm is radically different. While Android encourages a customized look and feel to sit in line with Android design best practices, in reality many developers simply create a carbon copy of their app’s design when moving from iOS to Android. That won’t cut it with Windows which has a series of very specific design requirements. While some of these can provide interesting new ways to showcase app content, others are simply annoying and require a rethink of many aspects of your app. The danger of ignoring these design paradigms is that you aren’t selected for any of the developer support efforts run by Windows and are shunted to a lesser section of the Windows App store.
Secondly, finding development resources for Windows OS is much harder than it is for Android. There are many fewer Windows 8 developers available for hire, although there are a number of freelance resources.
Thirdly, Windows 8 for Surface and laptops, and Windows Phone 8 do not actually have overlapping app stores, nor are apps developed for one immediately compatible for the other. If you are committed to the Windows 8 platform, you may find you need to develop both versions to be successful in either market.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room – market share and growth. For all of Window’s pretty numbers and improvements in the last two years, Android is still globally the operating system with the most users. If your existing users are clambering for a way to connect with their friends on other systems it’s most likely a request for an Android app. Windows just doesn’t have the reach yet to compete with Android.
Overall, however, for equal time, money and effort, I feel that Windows is a better opportunity for small independent developers looking for their second platform after iOS.
Have you launched an app on iOS first? What are you choosing as a second platform? Why?
Header image credit: Animoca
Every Monday, I write about something new you can try this week to drive more downloads for your mobile app and increase engagement with your existing app users, based on what has worked (and what hasn’t) for 23snaps.
Last week I gave a lecture at The Mobile Academy about app promotion and marketing. It was a crash course in getting your first downloads and while much of the content I’ve covered here; one new piece that I addressed during my talk was getting tech press for your app. There has been a ton written by people much more knowledgeable than I about bootstrapping PR, getting press and connecting with journalists so I’m just going to cover a couple of elements that I found particularly relevant for independent app developers when it comes to getting tech press.
1. Be a company, not an app
It’s very rare to see press about a new app launching. You see coverage of new companies trying to solve a problem. If their solution happens to involve an app, then that’s addressed but an independent app developer creating a new game isn’t news. Describe yourself as more than an app – figure out how to position yourself as a company.
2. Do something different
Kind of a no-brainer but if you are making an Angry Birds clone called Miffed Mice or something, you’re not going to attract much attention. What are you doing that’s a bit different or unique? Do you solve a problem that exists in other services? Figure out how you stand out from the crowd.
3. Share statistics
If you’re willing to share real, legitimate statistics from your company’s growth and usage then you give journalists more context. Take a look at popular stories on TechCrunch or The Next Web – most will have some sort of statistics from the companies mentioned. Numbers not only validate stories but help other companies and readers understand the ecosystem and benchmark themselves which is one of the reasons stats make popular reading.
4. Target the right journalist
Usually rule number one of bootstrapped PR – make sure you’re talking to the right person. If your emailing a journalist who only covers hardware about your app, you’re just cluttering up their inbox and you certainly won’t get a response. Get familiar with the journalists who cover your beat and write them personalized pitches when you have something relevant to share.
5. Define your audience
Another ‘duh’ concept but it’s very easy for journalists (and readers) to be skeptical of apps and businesses that claim to solve a problem for everyone in the world, or a new network that “everyone” will want to join. Niche is the current buzzword and it’s because it’s a much more interesting and believable story when a company recognizes a problem that affects a specific group and then goes about solving it. Who are you solving a problem for ? Who are you creating content and entertainment for? If you answer is everyone, then you’d better have some pretty impressive stats to back up that claim.
6. Pick a fight
While you should avoid actually throwing punches, sometimes some healthy competition can help garner some publicity. Whether you place yourself at odds with a bigger company or app in your space (such as a Facebook, Instagram, Candy Crush or similar), play off of another company’s misfortune or mistake to highlight your own offering (such as the news highlighting Amazon’s poor staff conditions or Google not paying UK taxes), or do (or provide) something slightly controversial (such as Snapchat being associated with sexting), any conflict can help you grab headlines.
This week, make sure you’ve set up your company to address the six points above to generate tech press for your app.