Michael Mace wrote another great post (I’m a huge fan of his) about 4 tests that a mobile application has to pass in order to be successful: meeting a real need, being easy to install, being easy to learn, and being something the user is aware of.
User awareness is our biggest problem as mobile software developers. Many, if not most, users are completely unaware that third-party software even exists for their handhelds. Or maybe are just peripherally aware of it – if you ask them if they can buy programs for their Palm handheld or smartphone, they’ll say something like “I guess”, but it’s clear that it’s not something they think or care about. For everyone like Michael Mace, who thought about a Palm application as a solution to his problem, there are probably a hundred who’d never even think to look for one.
Need, as opposed to want, is so interesting to me. A while ago, Handango ran a survey of its members, asking what kinds of applications they wanted for their handhelds. ISVs at their Summit got a copy of the results (probably under NDA, so please don’t ask me for a copy). I spent a fair amount of time looking at the results, and looking up the applications people said they wanted. Nearly all of them were already available. While Handango’s search wasn’t that great (they’ve since improved it), I’m fairly sure that the respondents just didn’t really want the apps enough to buy, or even look for, them. It’s the “real need” that Michael mentioned. There are many things that I want, but not quite enough to spend the time or money on them. I want to look a lot better, but apparently not enough to spend the time and money on what it would take. I’ve got a few dozen CDs on my want list at lala.com, but apparently I don’t want them enough to just buy them on eBay or Amazon.
Did Michael need Big Clock enough that he would have paid for it if it hadn’t been free?
I don’t have much to say about the ease of installation and learning, except that those apply much less to the early adopter / techno-geek people (Alan Cooper’s apologists), who probably prefer apps that are a little more “challenging”, and so keep fooling us ISVs about what’s going to be popular with most people.