He cautioned, however, that not all sites need an app. User experiences can be very different in front of a PC or a smartphone. One example he gave was of the amount of time and effort required to book a vacation. That needs to be done sitting at a PC. “Apps I tend to use in between real-life events,” he said.
Daly’s four tips for app developers:
It Starts With an Idea
Assuming their is a good reason for an app, Daly said it starts with an idea. An app needs a purpose. He compared it to a DIY project he took on recently where he needed a Robinson’s screwdriver. He may not use it again for two years, he said. “But the day I need it, nothing else is going to do.”
Daly’s example of a useful app was Tapadoo’s medications checker (shown above) for the Irish Sports Council (ISC). This app lets athletes look up active ingredients in medicine in case they mistakenly take something banned by anti-doping regulations, he said.
The ISC already provids the data on its website, but if an athlete was out and needed to buy headache medicine, for example, the app is perfect. “It’s an ideal iPhone app … You don’t head home and switch on your computer,” Daly said. “The day he [the athlete] needs it, no other tool will do.”
Less is More
Phones are small and there is only so much an app can do, Daly said. But clients will often try to add features that clutter an app.
He gave an example of one that tells surfers about conditions around the country. If sometime tried ‘to make it social’ when people are already using Facebook or Foursquare or even the phone itself, the secondary feature becomes useless and could ultimately drive users away. “What if my friends don’t have the app?” he said. By adding that extra feature you have confused the app.”
Make it Pretty
Although “preaching to the converted to some extent with the Refresh crowd,” Daly said looks are important. He used the example of two temperature conversion apps. One was “developed by someone like me who has no artistic skills,” and given away for free, he said.
The other is by TapBots and sells for around €1.59. “I am convinced it sells way more,” he said.
Consider the Details
Small touches matter and can impress clients, Daly said. Apple itself estimates that between 40 percent and 60 percent of effort should be spent getting the appearance right, he said.
One well-received example was an game developed for the Bank of Ireland to complement their Leinster Rugby site. This was a card-based game (shown above) that emulated the sound and look of a stack of playing cards.
Another example was when some extra touches were added to the ISC app. In effect, the kinds of things that will make a client smile or say “cool.”
Asking why it matters, Daly said apps are an important public-facing aspect of a company’s brand. Meanwhile, developers “are highly motivated by having their software used.”
In an active Q&A session afterwards, Daly was asked which app he uses the most. Twitter, he replied.
Asked about other mobile platforms, Daly is clearly no fan of Android. “I don’t buy any of the arguments about openness,” he said. Apple’s iOS is “clearly streets ahead,” he added. However, more clients are asking for apps for both, and he expects to see more Windows development next year after Nokia adopts the OS on its phones.
Asked if he had any horror stories about dealing with Apple’s app store, Daly told a cautionary tale about working for a digital agency in the UK that was sourcing an app for one of its clients. Despite numerous warnings from Tapadoo, the agency had promised the client a fixed completion date. Apple, however, works on its own approval schedule, and nothing can be planned around that, Daly said.
Nevertheless, the agency and client proceeded to build a media campaign based on the launch of the new app. Around £50,000 was spent even though the approval date was uncertain. The app was rejected due to a small bug. “Two people [in the agency and client company] were seriously looking to lose their jobs,” he said. After a quick fix and a “grovelling” email to Apple, the app was approved in time.
Screen shots of apps were taken from Tapadoo’s site. Square-holed screw by Tom Magliery on Flickr.