Why Consumer Apps Give More Insight Than Business Apps
Thursday, September 29, 2016
I’ve been using a smartphone since the Palm Treo came out in 2002 – now fourteen years later, my phone is absolutely integral to the way I do things: cook, travel, navigate, go out to eat, go to the movies, exercise. As the saying goes, “There’s an app for that.”
What about these consumer apps is so compelling? Why do smartphone users use 26.7 apps per month on average? Outside of pure entertainment apps, I believe the key reason is that these applications inherently generate high-value insights. Yes, they collect some interesting data. They can use the GPS to map your run, take in telemetry data from a heart-rate monitor and a chip in your shoe, connect that to an app that tracks your calorie intake, and connect that up with weight and body composition from your internet connected scale.
But if all they did was to take in that data, who cares?
These apps are so compelling because their interface is actually less about data entry or data processing, and almost entirely about gaining insight from the data. Sure they are beautiful from a design perspective, but what is so attractive is that the app is almost entirely business intelligence (BI) style output telling me what to do to achieve an outcome. I can glean such things as average running pace over my last several runs, how well I slept over the last week, how many calories I am under or over my target, or how many I need to burn to reach my target weight. And this is just the beginning.
Then I look at my business apps.
They’re usually clunky, meaning I end up digging for a few minutes just to find the one thing I am looking for. And once I find it, I don’t know that that information actually gave me what I needed.
So what can we do to make our business application as sticky as a consumer application - an app that users get real value from? Here are just a few observations.
Open your phone. How many apps do you have? Why do you think you have that many apps? It’s because they focus on one thing – end to end – and that’s it. My running app doesn’t try to track my meals. My maps app doesn’t try to make restaurant reservations for me. They focus on very discreet processes – and do them well.
On the other hand, most business apps try to combine everything that anyone could possibly need into one application.
Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, take a step back and spend time understanding the unique problems that matter to your end user, as well as the context in which they need to solve those problems.
What information can you present to them that will enable them to solve that problem better, more quickly, easily and pleasantly?
It’s not just about the process. You must think about the problem that needs to be solved or the outcome it needs to create. Then focus relentlessly on that problem or outcome, not all the adjacent process steps that may be somewhat related to it.
Enable Better Decisions
In order to do things, you have to be able to make decisions confidently. Consumer apps facilitate these decisions. How many more steps do I need to meet my goal? Which restaurant should I go to this evening? Which route should I take home?
Too often, business apps focus on making efficient transactions – booking travel, submitting expenses, etc. And even then, I find they barely do a good job of supporting the mechanics of the process they purport to “make more efficient.” But I need more.
I need to make decisions about that process. I need to know if there is something better I could be doing. Can I get a cheaper flight? Is there a customer I should meet with while I’m in town? Is the expense report my employee just submitted in line with what other employees are submitting for similar activities? I get these types of answers from my iPhone apps, why not from my business apps?
Business apps should focus on the decisions that your end your users need to make.
Put it in Context
People love their smartphone apps, because they give users the information they need in the moment they want to make a decision, and it’s contextualized to the task. Take the Zillow app for example, which is using your location to give you information on the houses for sale near you, in your price range, which are having an open house today.
Uber is another good example. When I open my app, I can see the cars circling, how long it’s going to take for a car to arrive, and the star rating of the driver. Immediately, I can make a decision of whether or not I want to take an UberX, a black car, or, if I’m feeling fancy, a SUV, or whether I need to hail a cab because the Uber will take too long.
Most business apps basically throw anything you might possibly need to know, both now and in the future, into the app. But it needs to be about the information a user needs in the moment they need to make a decision.
Sales managers, for example, rarely leave Salesforce. It would be a lot easier for them if all their data was within that application: a variety of Salesforce data, marketing automation data, various Excel spreadsheets – all combined in their Salesforce views.
Integrate with other Apps
Rather than trying to everything, many consumer apps connect with other applications in a way that adds significant value to it. For example, when I book a trip in my business expense system, I’m lucky to get a receipt. When I book a trip personally, that flows into Gmail where TripIt finds it, creates an itinerary for me, notifies my wife, my friends, and my business network of the trip, suggest to me hotels, restaurants, and social connection I might make in town, helps me manage the trip in real time with status notifications, access to reservations, and alternatives when flights are cancelled. After the trip, it has tracked all the costs for me and allows me to see where I’ve traveled and how many miles I’ve traveled.
It’s important to think about the adjacent decisions your users have to make and consider how you can integrate with other apps. In other words, try to play well with others in the sandbox.
The fact is, consumer apps are so sticky because they realize the goal of every information system ever conceived. They realize the goal of business intelligence. They not only support me in executing those processes in the moment, but they help me learn from my own experience, take advantage of knowledge that exists in the form of best-practices or related information, and they do it in a way that is intuitive to understand and creates significant value for me.
Do the business apps you provide measure up? Or are you getting shown up by apps that cost less than $10? I wonder how long the business user will put up with this.
This content is made possible by a guest author, or sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of App Developer Magazine's editorial staff.
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