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Usefulness of Apps

Posted by tomwiles at 9:00 AM on March 5, 2011

As I continue to live in a world of both Android and iOS apps, I have a few observations. These should serve as lessons for would-be app designers.

The most useful apps are those that take a single to narrow range of tasks that can be accomplished conventionally on a computer browser and squeeze them down into a simple interface that fits into a small touch screen.

Speedtest is a free iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS app that makes it instantly possible to check Internet connectivity speed. It’s certainly got snazzy graphics, but it’s basic functionality is excellent.

To date, the most useful apps I’ve found revolve around banking, bill-paying and finance. For example, with a few taps on my iPod Touch I can easily log into my local bank’s banking app and check up on the status of checking and saving accounts as well as transfer funds and even pay bills.

I can do the same for credit cards. It’s amazingly simple. Apps such as this are most effective and effecient when common actions taken are quicker, simpler and faster than handling them with a conventional computer and browser. The acid test comes if I reach for the app even though I have an open computer browser in front of me right at my fingertips.

Apps such as these should include all of the primary action-oriented elements present on the main website. If seemingly small elements are left out, it can reduce an app’s usefulness. For example, the iPod/iPhone/iPad/iOS GoDaddy app includes most of the action elements of the GoDaddy.Com website. However, the app neglects to include PayPal as a payment option which ends up forcing me to use the main GoDaddy.Com website anyway – a partial but serious fail.

In short, to make any splash at all, apps must be designed for accomplishing their tasks even better than a conventional computer and browser.

Do you have some apps you believe fall into this category? Let me know in the comments.

2 Comments

  1. From Paul at 10:13 am on March 5, 2011

    Tom,

    What’s your take on the iOS vs. Android user experience with regards to apps? I’m referring to the general quality of the apps, design elements, variety, accessibility, etc. You were pretty vocal on how much you liked your Droid device. If so – why did you decide to buy and iOS device as well?

    Paul.

  2. From tomwiles at 5:22 pm on March 5, 2011

    Paul, iOS got a head start on Android in the app department. For example, many financial institutions have iOS apps but no Android apps available as of yet. iOS still has the better app experience, but the overall ecology of apps is a moving target. Generally speaking as of right now, iOS apps do tend to have a more elegant feel to them.

    That being said, I still like my Sprint HTC Evo Android phone. I’m using it right now in fact as my WiFi hotspot for both my iPod Touch and this 17″ Macbook Pro. I’ve been using air cards for many years at this point and what’s available today is a quantum leap forward from what mobile Internet access once was. I know that Verizon’s new iPhone has a WiFi hotspot feature available, but Sprint’s WiFi hotspot on the Evo is unlimited data. I use TONS of data per month just in the podcasts I consume.

    Believe it or not for more than a year and a half I was using a Windows Mobile 6.5 phone as my podcast aggregator and playback device. The podcast aggregator software I was able to purchase for it was actually quite functional. When I switched phones, I was initially unable to find an Android podcast aggregator that I really liked, so I went back to using iTunes and one of my old Generation Five 30 gigabyte iPods for consumption of podcasts. A few months back, the old iPod kept locking up so I figured it was time for a replacement.

    I have really enjoyed the Generation Four 32 gigabyte iPod Touch. It not only plays back podcasts but allows me to also experiment with most iOS apps I’m interested in. It’s also given me a bit of a feel for whether or not I think I might be able to find a use for an iPad. So far, I have yet to be tempted into buying an iPad. Could that change in the future? Yes, but for that to happen someone needs to design an iPad app that works dramatically better than a laptop or an iPod Touch for that matter.

    Android has some hardware-dependent limitations to it that should be taken into account that likely can vary dramatically between different specific Android device designs. Android devices have a limited amount of built-in memory, so it is possible to run out of room for new apps. From what I’ve seen on my iPod Touch, room for new app installations is not a problem as long as I can juggle the shared memory for music, videos photos, etc.

    Wouldn’t it be easier for me to use just one device? Yes, but as many podcasts as I listen to day in and day out, one device would pose a serious battery life problem as well as dramatically limit the flexibility of what I’m able to do with two separate and very different devices that share similarities. As I see it the iPod Touch makes a great complimentary device for my Sprint HTC Evo Android phone. I’m a happy Evo Android user, a happy Sprint customer, as well as a happy iPod Touch owner.