What Purpose Does This App Serve?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The post is a profanity-laced rant, but it makes a good point about the current state of mobile computing:

I wouldn't download a BBC app or an NPR app for my computer. Why would I want one on my phone? Do I buy a separate radio to listen to different stations? No. The functionality is the same, the only thing that differs is the content. Apps ought to provide some actual functionality, not just blobs of content wrapped up in binary files.
I have commented on the annoying phenomenon of apps that merely deliver web sites before, but saw it mainly as a consequence or outgrowth of poor web site design. (How many times have you found yourself wishing that a web site would simply default to its cleaner, mobile version?)

But considering this again, I think there's another, cultural, force at work here, too: the same one that causes companies like Google and Microsoft to wreck flagship products. I see an understandable attempt to catch the coattails of the "new big thing" coupled with both a poor grasp of what that "new big thing" actually is and a lowering of the bar to mimic that "new big thing". I'd bet dollars to donuts that many companies operate on the premise that they're not really big time unless they have their own app, regardless of whether there is truly a need for one.

I harbor some hope that backlashes like the above are the tip of the iceberg, and that the marketplace, governed by the actual daily needs of millions of customers, will correct the unthinking, short-range, and conformist mentality of too many businesses who hope to cash in on the Internet and mobile computing. Having your own app or redesigning something used on working computers to look like it can run on a phone may garner attention for a while. However, after a thousand other people have already done it, it merely becomes annoying and, ironically, looks out of step, in much the same way that a business touting its indoor plumbing might. If a web site will do, design a good web site. If an app would actually do better, design it and make it available to interested customers in an unobtrusive way.

In short, businesses could save precious resources and generate less ill will from their customers if they would simply ask the question in the title of this post before building a new app.

-- CAV

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