The Hard Stuff - iPhone App Design Edition

September 15, 2010    

I was talking to my latest iPhone App customer today, and now that we’re both able to look at the prototype, we were talking about the features that we could add before the shipping version, or not.  We talked about trade-offs, and I heard myself saying the same thing I’ve said many times before, so I thought I’d write it down.

There are three really hard things about iPhone Apps (at least to me - I have a background Enterprise and Web Apps).

The first****really hard thing is figuring out how to fit****everything you want to have in your app****onto a three and a half inch screen**.**

Most of us are used to looking at computer monitors with menus along the top of the screen or window, and web pages with navigation bars down the side, and a keyboard that doesn’t cover the screen at all.  Figuring out how to squish your app to fit on the small screen is hard.

The second really hard thing is figuring out how to make your app interface intuitive and discoverable enough that it is useable it without reading or having a manual.

There are no help menu browsers on the iphone, and trying to make people read pages of documentation on a tiny screen is a non-starter.

I used to stop there.  It took me a year or so to realize there was a third really hard thing.  But there is.

The third really hard thing is figuring out how to get people to notice your app in amongst the 100,000+ apps in the App Store.

This one, I still haven’t figured out.  The first app I worked on had a well-known brand behind it, so marketing (from my point of view) “just happened.”  With the first app I published under my company, I was disappointed with the response (which was entirely my fault, but I know very little about marketing, and I knew even less then).  I’ve done some experiments trying to figure out how to get my app noticed before.  But I still don’t get it.  Maybe someday I will.