An Open Letter To App Developers

on December 2, 2013
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The smartphone has quickly become our primary interface to the world. The app has become our primary interface to the smartphone. Apps matter. Therefore, app developers matter. Unfortunately, too many apps, too many app developers, likely in pursuit of riches that shall never come, continue to offer copycat apps, apps poorly designed, apps that value ads over users.

I want to help. I know apps, good and bad. I was analyzing the “smartphone wars” back when most tech blogs were still talking Mac vs PC. I have used most major smartphone platforms, at length. This includes Palm and BlackBerry, Windows Phone, iOS and Android, Symbian, Asha and, yes, Meego.

I offer the following rules and declarations in the interest of creating more and better apps for everyone.

  1. The world does not need another weather app.
  2. By 2015, at the latest, I expect Windows Phone will garner at least a 20% share of all new smartphone sales. Create apps for this platform.
  3. It’s absolutely appropriate to ask me to rate your app. Once. If I choose not to, accept this — and never ask me again.
  4. Life is much easier when I can sign in to an app using my Facebook credentials.
  5. Never — not ever — should you request anything beyond my Facebook credentials, however. Do not ask to post my purchase of your app to my Facebook page, do not ask for my location unless there is a clear and present and ongoing user benefit. Do not ever ask me, and especially never require me, to tell you my Facebook friends.
  6. You have 3 seconds, tops. If I cannot fully immerse myself within the wonder and scope of your app in 3 seconds or less, then your app gets abandoned.
  7. Care about your app icon. It really does matter.
  8. Apple does not care about you. Apple provides you, for now, with the single greatest platform for monetizing your app. But do not believe they are your partner. They are the world’s largest (tech) company and do not like to share. iWork, iPhoto, Garage Band, Weather, Maps and more are just the start. Should a new app opportunity arise, possibly one you helped create, Apple will not hesitate to move in. Be ready to out-innovate, pivot, or die.
  9. We take our smartphones with us everywhere. For many, they are the first thing we see at the start of a new day, the last thing we see before going to sleep. This is a tremendous opportunity. At perhaps no time in human history has a single tool been used so fully throughout the day, everyday, for work and play, by child, teen, adult and senior, all over the world. Take pride in your work.
  10. You deserve to be paid. Of the hundreds of apps I have purchased, minimum, I have never once thought that I would rather choose the app with ads over paying $1, sometimes more, for an ad-free app. Even large display smartphones have relatively small screens. Cluttering it up with an ad, ever, is annoying. Worse, it’s a clear intrusion upon my privacy and a waste of time. I never click on a mobile/in-app ad. I can assure you that my time and my privacy are worth far more to me than my ad view is to you.
  11. Users deserve a second chance. Apple, especially, should offer an app trial period. Yes, even for a 99 cent app. Should they ever agree, these rules become even more important.
  12. Apps must be optimized for the platform and device. Always. Smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop. I subscribe to several web services (e.g. MyNetDiary, New York Times). The smartphone app version may look similar to the website, but must be optimized for the device itself (e.g. iPhone). There are no excuses for failing this.
  13. Touch, pinch, swipe. The touch interface is a beautiful thing. Yet, I have absolutely no use for apps, Clear, for example, or Tweetbot, that insist upon a needlessly expansive variety of gestures to access its data and features. This is nothing more than too many fonts on a Word doc.
  14. Almost every single app I have purchased over the past 18 months I discovered from a Twitter follower or a Facebook ad. Nowhere else. Not Apple genius. Not Google search. Not any app-focused website. You should know this.
  15. Specials are viral. I find out about your app on Twitter, for example, and learn it’s half-priced for today only, I am both extremely likely to buy and to tweet my purchase to others.
  16. Apps are like sperm. Only the first survive. If I have a decent grocery list app, say, there is an extremely good chance your far better, newer grocer list app will be irrelevant to me. Similarly, an app not on the ‘home’ screen is likely not long for this world. No advice, merely an acknowledgement. Your work is hard.
  17. Hold the line. Google has taught us that other’s information should be accessible, for free. Apple has taught us that hardware, not software, should be paid for. I don’t really know how you can succeed in this environment. But I hope you do. Most of you do great work.
  18. You get one chance only to ask if I want to connect with my friends. I should not have to repeat this. Ask once, then accept my ‘no’.
  19. I have a lot of friends. I know a lot of people. When you show me people I know or may know or should know and ask me to connect with them via your app, you make me feel nearly as dirty as you are.
  20. Never scan my contacts. Never ask to scan my contacts. It is a betrayal. This is why I can’t have LinkedIn on my phone.

As the world goes mobile, connecting everyone and everything, focused, functional and highly usable apps will serve as the entry point to all the world’s data, resources, people and content. The humble app, then, is a rather noble device. Treat it and its users with all due respect.

Godspeed.