Recently a lot of hot mobile apps (both on iOS and Android) have been published by major Startups from the Silicon-Valley, like Flipboard, Path or Any.Do. What do these apps have in common? They all address a very saturated market, and their only way to shine is to differentiate themselves from other apps through excellence. An app that is excellent, is an app that is both beautiful and easy to use. It’s an app that makes you happy whenever you use it. It’s an app that has some magic inside its hat. Generally they all have that single feature that everyone is going to remember and talk about. Path has that beautiful and smooth animated radial menu and Flipboard is a piece of art, you can flip through the articles like a magazine, but vertically instead of horizontally in order to compensate the size of the screen on the iPhone that is smaller than the one on the iPad.
I have a confession though, I have been using Path for only 2 days. Why? Because I just don’t need it. Yes, I can survive without it since none of my friends are actually there and I, sincerely, don’t need another fuck**g social app. In fact Facebook/Twitter and may be Google+ cover all my social needs. But although I’m not using it, I have it still installed on my Nexus S because I often need to refer to it when talking about high quality apps (especially with clients).
On the other hand, I can see myself as a regular user of Flipboard because the app is useful (can’t say that I am a regular user, since I don’t own any iOS device yet).
The conclusion of this, is that building an excellent app in a saturated market, is only a necessary condition. Nothing more. So please, before building any app, question yourself about whether your app could be useful in any capacity. Yesterday, I have read an article written by yongfook titled: Design is Horseshit. I strongly recommend you to read it, basically he is saying that Startups should be focusing more on creating value than on creating something that is just beautiful. I couldn’t agree more with him, I think design became overhyped (especially since Steve Jobs’s death). Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that having a good design isn’t important but if the product isn’t useful in the first place, then people will just toss it away. And if you show me two apps, one that is beautiful and useless and the other one that is ugly but useful, then I’ll go for the latter one on a regular basis (unless I find a suitable replacement for it by the way). This is best explained by this short clip from How I met your mother:
Basically Barney Stinson (What’s his job? Please!) stipulates that a girl is allowed to be Crazy, as long as she is equally Hot. I feel the same for apps. An app is allowed to be Ugly as long as it is equally Useful.
Actually, I think I’ll make my own theory here, by sorting apps on their hotness/ugliness and their usefulness/uselesness scale. To clarify, let’s consider this chart:
As you can see, I have listed a few apps that you probably all know. Among these apps, I am only using those that are situated on the right side of the chart. Path is freaking hot, but not that useful. Badoo is not only useless but I have found their Android app to be a horrible, horrible piece of shit! Consider Prixing, which is an app that allows you to compare prices and helps you find whether some food has any suspicious ingredient (that will hurt your body if you follow a special diet for instance). Well, Prixing is a good example of an app that is not hot (well to be honest, it’s not hot but the design is simple and intuitive which is all that counts at the end) but very useful. No matter how hot Path will become, I don’t see myself using it in the future. On the other hand, no matter how ugly and laggy Prixing will become, I will always keep it on my device. Why? Because I can’t live without it. Of course, if you succeed into building an app that is both beautiful and useful then you are doing great, keep it going.
But please, stop making only good looking apps and start making useful apps. My device needs them more.