Our DNA is written in Swift

Not for the Money

I learned a lesson today regarding happiness and programming. If you are concentrating on a single device and/or a niche of applications then often you feel like you’re the only one you loves the outcome of your never ending pecking at keys. And if you DO get feedback for your apps then often it’s only a rant in the reviews.

I already told you the story how SpeakerClock came to be. I did not write if for the money because frankly I did not think that anybody but myself would be using it. That’s also the reason why I am offering it for FREE initially. I’d rather get a couple of people to use it and send my feedback than have it sit on a virtual shelf collecting dust. Version 1.1 will be the one where I start charging, I decided. Or maybe the basic features now present will stay free, but some upgrades could be a good InAppPurchase.

I’m going to have a look at what we can learn about making great apps from an unexpected reaction I received.

Apple currently has some slides in the iPhone Tech Talk Kickoff presentation of what they think makes a good app. I think I’ll have to make a poster out of this that I can hang on the wall behind my iMac.

  • Delightful
  • Innovative
  • Designed
  • Integrated
  • Optimized
  • Connected
  • Localized

Now I’ve heard this several times already, but have I really understood it yet? Well, only partially. One thing that I try to do is have as little distractions as possible. Take SpeakerClock again as an example: through gestures I was able to have all settings be achievable through the main screen. Though I forgot about mentioning that you can start and stop the countdown by simply tapping on it. I’ll have to add this to the already extensive instructions that are on the app’s about page. Another thing that seems to really help users is that they can send me an e-mail with feature requests quite easily.

Starting from the bottom, Localization is something that I saved for future versions due to my self-imposed time constraint of having to finish the app in a single day. Well, for the about part anyway, since the main functionality of the app does not have any text.

I’ve not had any ideas regarding the app being connected. Would you want to auto-twitter where and when you have started your speech? Hm…

Optimization is also only possible for the about table view. I hear that performance on 3G iPhones is not so impressive. I’ve already made some improvements to DTAboutViewController which should pay off in a future update.

Integration with the iPhone’s hardware is currently through the touch interface. There might be more features that could be done using onboard hardware.

Design is something that I care to avoid because I don’t consider myself a good designer. But fortunately for the app there is next to no design necessary. I might increase the size of the traffic light and also the active area of the info button.

I cannot say if you can call SpeakerClock innovative, some happy users seem to think it is. I simply tried to emulate a really existing device, but instead of having buttons and settings to manipulate the time, I opted for touch controls.

But the holy grail of all those items is that your app should be delightful. It should make the user happy to have it and through not getting in the way of his wishes cause feelings of joy. Being the most important of the list it is also the hardest to predict. What do users really want? We can only guess. Possibly to be able to carry out a task in a faster and more intuitive way than they where doing it before having the app on their device.

But after all theory the only way to know if you are on the right track is to engage the user personally and ask for his feedback. I am saying feedback because I mean feedback, NOT reviews. A spontaneous reaction to using your app. What feelings does it produce. Very few people are able to really communicate the level of delight they feel when starting your app. But when forced to think about it they often come up with a list of annoyances that they think you should fix to improve your app. While those are great to continue to improve and polish, they only tell you the facts side of the story. What’s the emotion?

Now we get to what lesson it is that I learned. Yesterday evening I had the spontaneous idea of contacting the TED office and have them try out my app. I had some emotions that would previously have me NOT do that for fear of negative consequences: What if they object to me mentioning the TED clock as inspiration? Am I unknowingly infringing on their copyrights or trademarks? Will they sue me? What if they don’t like it? I would be devastated. I would consider my life a total failure… at least my iPhone programming life …

Or would I?

One thing I learned previously is that at some stage you have to stop with the “what if” questions and just take the leap. A very successful business regimen seems to be: Do first, ask permission later. The worst thing that can happen is that you get a cease and desist letter, like when Ravensburger started to tell developers that they where infringing on Ravensburger’s rights to the trademark “Memory”. Or when Andreas Heck received notice by Winning Moves who told him that he was not legally allowed to use the term “Top Trumps” for his games, so he renamed them. It’s easy to correct if only by removing all instances of a word in your app. Or by reaching a licensing agreement. Any action is better than inaction due to fear of negative consequences. And positive action, that is my lesson, opens the opportunity to result in unforeseeable positive reaction.

Getting back to TED, I did not expect a reaction, or a positive one. But I am not listening to my own teaching at times, I previously DID write about the folly of making predictions. Again, I predicted wrong.

To my own delight I found the following in my inbox not even a day after submitting the TED contact form:

So cool! We’re all playing with your app in the TED office. Here’s
TED’s June Cohen and Chris Anderson.

If you didn’t know, Chris Anderson is the curator of the TED Conference and June Cohen the Executive Producer of TED Media. Having read up on them on Wikipedia makes me smile even broader. These are people that I would love to shake hands and chat with some day to thank them for the great speeches they keep curating and putting on the TED website. Just today they added James Cameron, whom I’ll watch right after publishing this article.

This is the best kind of reaction that one of your apps can elicit in people. “So cool” is code for “Delight”. And “Playing with the app” suggests that the app invites experimentation and exploration with your senses, touch and visual in this case suggesting that if I did not hit the target of Innovative/Optimized, at least I’m in the ballpark. Maybe that’s overanalyzing and reading too much into the TEDsters’ reaction.

In any case their example is a great idea for making a developer happy. Make a photo of yourself using his app and send it to him, be sure to *wink* mention some word that he could infer “Delight” from. You can be certain this e-mail/Photo will end up in his trophy case. Because in all likelihood he will consider his programming a form of art and only secondarily be doing it for the money.

That’s an “idea worth spreading”,  developers have emotions too, you know. 🙂

Categories: Education


  1. It surprises me how little feedback I get from customers, especially when it gives them the opportunity to influence the design of my/their products.

    Maybe my apps are just too good already. 🙂

  2. Congrats Oliver

    Its always good to get a bit of feedback, but this has to be one of the best. Well done.

  3. Chris,

    Let me ask you this: what do you do to encourage feedback?

  4. My Apps provide a ‘Learn more’ button which connects users to an exclusive App owners area on my web site where they are offered extra tips about the App and are encouraged to provide feedback.

    Also my web site ( allows contact through support forms and a forums section.

    I find the feedback to user ratio is about the same as comments on my YouTube page about 1 for every 1000 views. Which could actually be a bit overwhelming if I sold a lot, luckily I don’t.

    Your ideas on ‘About screen’ features have inspired me to look at ways to bring user feedback inside future Apps. Thanks.