Apps developed by local companies and individuals really spark my curiosity. Having studied software development and dabbling in mobile app development, I know it’s no easy task to build this stuff.
I recently had to do a review of apps for the local populace (see the apps for Aunties guide). A couple of hours perusing through the Google Play store gave me all the information about the apps I need. It also gave me tons for information about apps that I don’t need; hence this article.
Where have they gone wrong?
Don’t get me wrong: I really admire the people who put their time and effort into developing apps for people. They spend countless hours doing what they love and expect almost nothing in return. So what am I complaining about?
Like any great invention, with great power comes great responsibility (cliché much but it holds true). When it comes to apps, that includes the responsibility of doing something new.
For starters, apps developed locally are not exactly innovative per se. That’s putting it mildly. There are a few novel concepts such as the YAMU App and Bhasha Puvath, an app that aggregates the news from all major news publications in Sri Lanka and displays them on screen for your viewing purposes.
But apart from that, there’s no real innovation taking place. When you consider that the former is basically a mobile front-end for a web-based review site, and the latter is basically a giant feed reader, you realize just how bad it is.
UI design: meh
Another thing that bugs me is that even when a locally developed has very good functionality, it look completely unattractive. Or vice versa. It’s very rare to find something that works and looks good – it’s as if local developer haven’t heard of UI design.
It’s not only with ye average app developer, but rather finds itself even in some of the big companies in the country. For example, a colleague of mine does quality assurance for a company and he had to asses and evaluate a new app that they were releasing. According to the proposal he was sent, the app was touted to be ‘groundbreaking and innovative’ – and a few other big words were tossed in there too.
He installed in on to his smartphone and on the first launch the app crashed. After the initial setup simply switching the orientation of the device from portrait to landscape caused the interface to become entirely garbled and completely unusable. Needless to say that the app failed the basic interface test and had to be redone.
Yes, I get that writing the code is hard enough. Nevertheless, would you buy a commode without a seat? Seriously: If you’re spending that much time on the app, a little housework won’t kill you. Aspects like GUI (graphical user interface) play an integral part in an app’s life cycle. Buttons appearing too clunky, unreadable text, contrasting colors, these are all the earmarks of a poorly developed application that is doomed from the start. If it looks like it’s from the 90’s, take it home and make it look better.
More and mediocre
A quick look around the app store for one particular genre (example a photo editor) and you’re bombarded with 250,000 apps that all do the same thing akin to the proverbial Chinese mobile phone industry. They are either cheap knockoffs of the original app with bare minimum functionality or just plain crap out when trying to get something done and in the end are just a waste of space. It would appear that these apps are just released without rhyme or reason, have no proper testing methodologies carried out and spend the rest of eternity taking up someone else’s space.
Local apps are no different. Look around the app stores – not just the Google Play Store, but local ones from Dialog, Etisalat and the like. A few dozen couple chat applications. Train schedules? We’ve got more train schedule apps than trains these days. News readers? Yes, a repackaged RSS reader that crashes a lot will really make your career. Why not look for something that would be worth someone’s time?
The ‘Sri Lanka’ mentality
Does Whatsapp advertise itself as being Polish, or American? Does Flipboard? Or PowerAmp? If so, why should you?
Developers miss the biggest caveat of a Play store: it’s a worldwide space. You have the space to compete internationally. And like it or not, your are being competed against, also internationally. I’m not going to install a music player because it has the word “Lanka” in the title: I’m going to install it if it’s really good – and if it’s good, people from all over the world will download it. Most developers seem to be stuck in a village mentality. There’re few things that are truly international and out of those almost none worth installing. Think outside the Sri Lankan calendar.
Do your homework
If you are a mobile app developer or you want to start your career as one, then my honest advice to you would be to do your research properly. Add your own sense of creativity and invest in proper R&D without climbing aboard the bandwagon and joining the masses to develop apps just because you can; I’m not talking only about the financial aspect, but the social one too. Take your time and talk with people, look at market trends. Look at apps that interest you and see how you can make them better or add your own touch to them. See if people will use your app.
Take ordinary things like capturing an image or playing a song and see how you can add elements to it. Let your inner creativity flow. But don’t rush it. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.