iPhone Apps, Simplicity is the Key

Matthew Campbell, July 6th

Let me ask you something. How many applications do you have installed on your desktop that you actually use on a regular basis?

Let’s see. I’m on a Windows 7 notebook, so I have Microsoft Office, Pidgin (for all of my instant messaging), Adobe Photoshop, Skype, PSpad, FileZilla and iTunes (only because I have an iPhone).

If Google Docs worked better, I would eliminate Microsoft Office from my desktop and from my life. So, I have seven apps installed that I’ve actually used in the last three months. For most people, this list is probably even smaller.

I would use fewer desktop apps if I could. Desktop apps are problematic for a number of reasons. First, they save data to my local machine, which I can eventually lose (hard drive crashes, misplacement, etc).

Second, this makes me dependent on a physical device, which I don’t like at all. I prefer to have all of my information freely available wherever I may be.

Third, over the years desktop apps have suffered from what is commonly referred to as “feature creep”. For example, Microsoft Word now contains hundreds of features that people just don’t use, making it a more complex product overall.

According to Jensen Harris, Group Program Manager of the Microsoft Office User Experience Team published a list of the most used features in Microsoft Word.

According to the study, these five commands account for 32% of all of the command usage in Microsoft Word 2003.

The explosion in iPhone applications can’t be ignored (150,000 plus at the time of this writing). If you use an iPhone, there’s a good chance you have quite a few iPhone apps installed that you use on a regular basis.

Why? Because the majority of iPhone apps are designed to do one thing, and do that one thing very well. For example, the iPhone texting application, it gives you the ability to send and receive text messages in a very simple and straightforward way. The iPhone Facebook app gives you the ability to quickly view the status of your friends and update your status. You can even snap photos and instantly upload them.

There are iPhone apps for setting alarms, getting the current weather, listening to Pandora, Slacker. Apps for monitoring eBay, booking a hotel room, checking airline ticket prices. I find myself using the iPhone apps more than I use my PC and a web browser. Why? It’s the simplicity of these applications. They typically don’t suffer from “feature creep”.

Is my viewpoint is slanted, because I work on a Windows PC instead of a Mac? I’m not sure. Most likely not. I will bet that “feature creep” eventually finds its way into popular iPhone applications as well. As a software architect or designer, it’s a natural process to want to continue to add more features to your product. Competitors are adding more features and as a software designer, you must “keep up”. I’ve done it and I see startups doing it now with their iPhone efforts.

This process devalues applications. We need to strive to simplify applications and stop adding more features for the sake of adding features, attempting to please a few to the detriment of the many.

Instead, if you’re a software developer, architect, creator, etc., follow in the footsteps of the most recent simplified engineering successes. Successes such as Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp and the like.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~Leonardo DaVinci

About Todd
Todd Fearn is the owner of an internet marketing company and also CEO of a wall street technology consulting firm. Todd has created a number of unique software and internet startups. Todd’s blog is at http://www.toddfearn.com

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