In my line of work, I get to test a lot of apps. I hunt for them, I judge their usefulness, I try them out, and then when I find an app works well enough or addresses a real problem, I review it for our readers. It sounds like a fun job and as I’ve continued to test and review more and more apps, I’ve picked up on tell-tale signs of what makes a good app. But I’m not overly clever to pick up on these signs; it’s a by-product of experience and where I can identify if an app is good or bad just by looking at the screenshots and reading a brief description, it isn’t a foolproof check. Developers are just as clever (if not more) at the game than I am and they give me the slip. It’s times like this that the true test of a good app comes down to one thing, and one thing alone; features.
Before I get into the details, I’m going to share what those tell-tale signs are of a seemingly good app. Ratings and reviews aren’t part of the equation because it’s my job to review the new ones, the undiscovered apps, the ones no has tried yet, and tell people about it so they don’t have to search and experiment with apps themselves.
Design: Make no mistake that this is what gets your foot in the door. Design isn’t the color theme you use, it isn’t how fancy the graphics are, how minimal the interface is. It’s all of these things. When I look at good design, I look at how easy an app is to use, navigate, and understand for the average user.
What problems does it solve? This is a key question that I ask when I look at an app, any app. A new URL shortening app is released possibly every week but there are so many of them now that it’s no longer a problem to solve. Many file sharing services have taken it upon themselves to offer shortened URLs and cut out the middle-man. An app or a service MUST address a real problem. It needs to cater to a genuine need that people have. Just because someone developed it, doesn’t necessarily mean it is useful. Usefulness is a concept associated with problem solving. If I have to think for hours just to come up with a use for an app or service, it really isn’t useful.
Try before you buy: At AddictiveTips, we rarely cover apps or services that do not have a free version for our readers to try out. Often when we find a paid app that is worth the review, we try to offer our readers free copies. And it’s this last criterion that brings me to why I will or will not upgrade an app.
SleepBetter – A Case Study
A few days ago I reviewed an app called SleepBetter. It is an app that promises better sleep and that claim alone is enough to get me to try it at the very least. Not only does the app have an excellent design, but it solves a genuine problem that many people face; sleeping poorly. The cherry on top is of course the fact that it has a free version you can try out for yourself. If you like what the app offers, you can upgrade and unlock more features (and also remove those annoying ads). And if you want even more proof that this app is great, look at the company that developed it; Runtastic. They make excellent health and fitness apps and if that doesn’t tell you how great an app this might be, what does?
SleepBetter has everything going for it and yet, I decided it is never going to be worth the small $1.99 price tag for the upgrade. After using it for a week, SleepBetter is not helping me sleep better. It’s helping me wake up at a particular time, something the alarm app on my phone does perfectly well.
What Went Wrong?
Where the app checked all the boxes that made it out to be a good app, the ultimate question I asked myself when I thought about upgrading is what am I really buying here? The pro-version offers alarm customization, dream tracking, in-depth stats, and the effect of the moon cycle on your sleep.
I already have an alarm clock app, it works fine and I can customize it as much as I want.I dream about being chased, falling, or missing an exam. Lather, rinse, repeat. Stats? Sure, I like pie charts over walls of text but I like sleeping well too.
Now the moon cycle and it’s effects are what look interesting; research has shown that the full moon, or days around it may result in less sleep for some people, and werewolves. It does indeed result in a drop in melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle and this is definitely what would qualify as an upgrade-worthy feature.
The pro-version of SleepBetter will tell me how exercise, eating late, having a stressful day, and consuming caffeine will effect my sleep. The free version factors these in as a whole and the pro version will tell me what the direct effect of each one is. This is where I call the app’s bluff.
The Cracks Begin To Appear
Despite exercising, eating late or skipping dinner altogether, having a stressful day, and even consuming caffeine only an hour before bed, or not doing any of these things, the app tells me day after day that I’ve slept at 98% efficiency. My sleep efficiency doesn’t change no matter what my activities are prior to turning in. You would think consuming coffee would bring my sleep efficiency down a bit but that isn’t happening. What exactly are these sleep efficiency stats telling me then?
Not once does the app mention REM cycles but it continues to tell me that I slept at 98% efficiency with just 5 hours of sleep. Just because I’m awake doesn’t mean I’m well rested. It’s really these stats, the fact that they are unbelievable, and that factors that should be influencing them make no difference to it whatsoever, that put me off the upgrade. Moon cycles might have been worth the upgrade but the sleep stats I’m getting with the free version are so hard to believe that it makes me think the moon cycles might have similar (read: zero) effect on my sleep.
This is something that took a good 7 days and 7 nights for me to realize, no matter what the app offers me after I upgrade to it, the free version is already a disappointment. The features do not deliver. And in the end, it is about the features.
The Infinity Blade Series – Another Case Study
I do not game a lot. Mobile games for me are normally ways to kill time or a great way to avoid talking to people. My phone has games like Candy Crush, Letterpress, Cut the Rope, and Tall Chess. Simple little games that are relaxing to play and intellectually stimulating (Candy Crush not included). Some time two years ago, the wonderful people behind the Infinity Blade series decided to make Infinity Blade I free for the Easter or Christmas holidays (I forget which one). Blogs that cover games were raving about this game and it’s being free for a limited time. I decided there was no harm in trying.
I loved the game; it was entertaining. It blew away my ridiculous self-contrived notion that gaming on an iPhone 4 was never going to be a fun experience. The developers did an amazing job with the story line, the weapons, the armor, the monsters, the scenes, the game play, everything. The graphics had me drooling. I went on to buy both the second and third volumes of this game and have completed each game more than once. I’ve never been bored or felt like I wasted the money I spent on it
This game delivered on its promise of entertainment and it was worth its price. What’s more, this one app sold the next two volumes to me. No ad prompted me to buy Infinity Blade II and Infinity Blade III, there were no promotions that time around, and there certainly wasn’t any trial period. I have zero regrets.
Apple and Oranges?
I’ve just compared a health app with a game. You can say its unfair but since both are trying to earn money, trying to get users to buy them or their next/pro versions, it means they both have the same goal. And achieving that goal for both apps means they need to deliver on what they promise. That might be entertainment or it might insight into our physical well being and ways to improve it.
Infinity Blade is a game and the App Store is choked full of games. It is not easy for an app to stand out unless it’s really a good app. It needs to be entertaining, and Infinity Blade is. It is insanely good.
SleepBetter is competing with health apps which are far fewer compared to the games and even the photography category. It comes from a big name company and that is a great recommendation. It doesn’t deliver.
The TL;DR version of this article is that an app has to deliver or people are not going to upgrade. It should be easy enough to understand that features are why people upgrade but some app developers fail to understand this. It isn’t a difficult concept nor is it a secret because so many developers have gotten this right too. Features are what matter and make the app worth the upgrade. Considering that I’ve bought weather apps, games, a period tracking app, a great data managing app for my 3G and Wi-Fi data, among others, there isn’t a genre of apps where I hold back on given that the app is doing what it promises to do.