User-Centered Approach

A User-Centered Approach in Mobile App Development

The Profit vs. Users Dilemma

Last week, we discussed Google’s new strict enforcement of their User Data Policy. We also mentioned the study that shows how a lot of app developers don’t actually abide by their own privacy policy. Apparently, some apps gather sensitive user information without permission and share said information to a third party. This is shocking news for many but for some, it just confirms their suspicions. But this departure from a user-centered approach to a profit-centered approach in app development isn’t actually sudden. It’s not new either.


Even with how this betrayal of trust appears, it is most of the time due to need and not greed. The reality is that small-time developers only get little to no revenue from their app portfolio. Some of these developers end up employing aggressive and somewhat underhanded monetization tactics.


But is this issue only limited to struggling app developers? There are probably several app development companies that are guilty of bypassing their own privacy policies. Most of the time, there is no ill-intent, just casual disregard to the users’ interests. But where do you draw the line?


Rules for a User-Centered Approach

There are no solid rules but there are best practices in app development. These rules serve as a checklist that you can use as a guide producing quality and user-centered apps. Any necessary implementation won’t cost anything except some effort on your part as a developer.

Rules on privacy

  • Respect users’ privacy. This general rule includes sensitive data handling issues like third-party access and monitoring. The purpose of the monitoring is also another issue. As much as possible, only monitor app usage data to improve app performance.
  • Do not request for unnecessary permissions. The type of data you request from users also matters. Do you really need access to a user’s contact list? Is it really necessary in the onboarding to require the user’s phone number? This is where you can (re)consider your intentions.
  • Do not sell sensitive user data. This one is tricky. If you sell anonymous user data to third parties, you aren’t technically violating your users’ privacy.This data is often used to determine usage trends, buying habits, and other insights.

Worryingly, there are data aggregation and sharing practices that go beyond the app’s purpose. If you don’t feel comfortable about your personal data being aggregated this way, just think about how your users would feel

Rules on Honesty

  • Use plain and simple language in the privacy policy. There’s no need to confuse users with legal jargon. Users would most likely feel that you have something under your sleeve if their interpretation of the privacy policy does not coincide with yours.
  • Don’t trick users into spamming their friends and other app users. This became an issue last year with a photo-sharing app. Users inadvertently spammed all their contacts via SMS. This was after the app promised users with “1 GB of storage per invite sent.”

Though the users technically gave consent for the app to access their contact list, they did not expect for the app to spam all their contacts with invites and notifications.

Rules on Respect

  • Minimize disruptions. Disruptions can come in the form of pop-up ads or notifications. Ads and branding features should be discreet and timely. A great user experience is, after all, the main focus of a user-centered approach. This also extends to the practice of sending misleading notifications, especially through SMS.
  • Don’t hog bandwidth. Make sure that added functionality doesn’t cause the app to consume a lot of data. This is especially important with background processes that users may not be aware of. If the use of a lot of data is really necessary, you should be upfront to your users about it.


There are more unspoken rules in app development and in the handling of user data in particular. Do you know any other rules for a user-centered approach in app development? Tell us in the comments.

Does Your App Have a Privacy Policy?

Google to Punish Apps that Violate its User Data Policy

Did you by chance receive a notice like this? If yes, then Google would probably descend on your app – and they mean business.


One of the most common violations of Google’s User Data Policy is the lack of a privacy policy. The absence of a privacy policy means that you, as a developer failed to properly disclose the whys and hows of handling sensitive user data within your app.


Several of the sensitive user data that apps often handle are:

  • Personal information used for identification purposes
  • Financial and payment information
  • Authentication information
  • Contact list
  • Data from camera sensor
  • Sensitive device data

If your app handles any of these types of sensitive data, then you must provide a privacy policy in the Developer Console and within the app itself. The policy also includes the secure handling and transmitting of user data.


So, if you are still unable to comply by March 15, Google will “limit” the visibility of your app in the store listing or remove it altogether. A lot of tech news outlets call Google’s drastic policy enforcement as a “purge”. The said purge is estimated to “cleanse” the Play Store from millions of apps. Even some app developers think that this is a positive thing. A few of the cited benefits are:

  • The decongestion of the Play Store
  • A safer app experience
  • Improvement in the standards of the store listing through the elimination of low-quality apps and “zombie apps”. The so-called zombie apps refer to apps that had been up and running for several years without being updated
  • Increased visibility for original apps


What Can You Do About This?

The simple answer would be to comply with Google’s policy. There are two ways you can do this.

  • If you don’t have any experience in creating a privacy policy, you can either learn through basic privacy policy templates and guides or you can use a privacy policy generator service.
  • Remove all requests for sensitive user data. This is possible if your app’s function doesn’t depend on the input of user data.

At the end of the day, this is not just about the apps but the welfare of the app users. The Carnegie Mellon University revealed that of the 18,000 free Android apps they analyzed, almost half lack a privacy policy. Not only that, 71% of these apps’ permission request handle personal user data. You won’t want your app to be a part of that 71%.


As the Carnegie Mellon University reiterated, there are federal and state laws in the US that require mobile apps to have a privacy policy and follow the said policy.   Therefore, this privacy policy requirement is not limited to the Google Play Store.

Average App Revenue: The Misleading Benchmark

Average revenue is one of the key performance indicators for mobile apps. It is a common practice to use category-specific average app revenue as a benchmark. By comparing your app’s performance to apps in the same category you will know for certain if your app’s monetization models are performing as designed. But is the average app revenue metric really accurate?


The Flaws with Average App Revenue

  1. General averages include apps that are very different from your app. By just using the game category, it is easy to conclude that the subcategories within include apps that are very different from each other. Also, there are types of game apps that perform better consistently. Even if a lot of these apps have the same concept or mechanics, they still use different monetization models.
  2. The top apps skew the numbers. The top apps actually pull up the average app revenue especially if they are earning a lot. Even if you narrow down the comparison to a specific subcategory, the difference between the revenue of a top app compared to an app ten steps down the rank is staggering! The top app would make it appear that the subcategory is earning a lot when most of the lower-ranked apps don’t even earn half of the top app’s revenue.

These flaws aren’t just limited to average app revenue. Different monetization models like in-app purchases also use an overall average for benchmarks.


How to Better Benchmark Apps

  1. Use apps that are very similar to your app for benchmarking. The apps should have similar functionality, features, audience, and monetization models. Select 5-10 apps from the 80th – 20th percentile your app’s category or vertical.
  2. Use average revenue per user. Narrow down your selection of apps by comparing average revenue per user. The specific metric to use is the average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU). This is to eliminate any unfair revenue comparison based on the number of app users.
  3. Group apps into three different revenue categories. Place your benchmark apps into either the high (80th percentile), median (50th percentile) or low (20th percentile) revenue performance category. This will eliminate the ambiguity that average app revenue benchmarks provide. You can also use this to evaluate the performance of your app over time; if it is improving or getting worse.


There is a huge chance that apps in several categories appear to perform better than they do. And this has to do with how general averages are used as benchmarks. So in order to really know where your app stands in terms of revenue, a targeted approach is necessary.

Big-Budget App Marketing Blunders

App Marketing Fails

It is common knowledge that only a few apps make it to the App Store charts. Over the years, it seems that big-company apps rule the charts. These companies have all the resources especially budget-wise. The advantage is quite obvious especially in terms of marketing. But even with the seemingly unlimited resources at their disposal, big budget apps aren’t immune to marketing blunders. From not even considering any marketing, marketing to the wrong audience, and not living up to the hype – you’ll be surprised how these simple marketing blunders can spell the app’s failure.


Everpix: No Marketing

The developers of Everpix weren’t “sales people”. They believe that the app will sell itself which is very common in the early days of app development where the common mantra was “If you build it, they will come”. A lot of app developers see those times as an eye-opening experience. Everpix though, made one of the costliest (non-) marketing blunders of the nascent years of app development.


33cube Inc., the Everpix’ development company gained $1.8 million from investors in 2012. The entire amount went mostly to the app’s development. The company spent a little to nothing on advertising. The focus was on the app’s quality. Their efforts seem to pay off as the app was considered as one of the best solutions for cloud photo storage in 2013. It had great UI and UX, functionality, and features. Its 55,000 users (both free and paid) stored about 400 million photos using their service. But just a few months after, the people behind the app was preparing for its shutdown.


The app’s pricing was reasonable but they weren’t attracting a lot of subscribers compared to other similar apps. Investors aren’t also as keen as before because they can see that the risk is higher in the volatile app industry. So even if 33cube Inc.’s founder had a connection at Apple, he wasn’t able to secure more funding. The company even indebted as acquisition deals turned cold.


The company only earned about $200,000 from Everpix subscriptions. Overall, the company estimates their net income to be more or less -$2,000,000. It’s a staggering loss. The app’s founders admitted they made a lot of mistakes, including their failure to market the app early. It is also important to note that they did not think of marketing as important enough so no one in their team had the skill set necessary for app marketing.


Hailo: Wrong Target Market

Hailo has the same concept with Uber but it is exclusively for yellow cabs. The high anticipation for the app brought on $100 million worth of funding. Hailo already tasted success in the UK where about 2.5 million passengers use the service. It also came at a perfect time where e-taxi services became legal in New York. But the competition was fierce. There were a lot of similar services that compete within the same price range as Hailo. But it’s just the same anywhere else. Even in London, where Hailo hails from, there is competition. So, what went wrong with their US venture?


In 2014, Hailo decided to pull out from North America. One of the reasons cited was the “astronomical marketing spend”. This is brought on by the fierce competition brought on by Uber’s aggressive price cuts. But it is also important to note that there was a lack (or a disregard of) a market research. There is indeed a demand for e-hailing services but the cab drivers don’t have a demand for such services, they are even suspicious of the app company. So even if they exhaust their funds on marketing the app, they still run short on the service’s main object: the taxis.


In London, the streets are somewhat convoluted. Cabs are somewhat a luxury for the public. It is a requirement for cab drivers to have a high level of training. It is also advantageous and necessary for them to carry a smartphone. The situation is different in New York. The streets are gridded and cabs are part of the daily commute. As a result, cab drivers require only a little training, have more competition and don’t really need to carry a smartphone. There is little to no motivation for the cab drivers to sign up to Hailo.


In hindsight, it could’ve been easy to prevent any marketing blunders. That is if only the company did not decide to push through (aggressively) in a market that is incompatible with their product.


Beme: Too Much Hype

In this time and age, people immediately jump into what’s trending in social media. This is good, but popularity can also be the app’s downfall especially when it fails to deliver. Beme’s concept is original and simple. Users hold their device up their chest area. The video length limit is up to only 8 seconds but the users can pull away anytime and the video will be automatically shared on Beme. This is also the passcode for “boring” in social media terms. This is mostly because the features that people wants (and think matters in a social app) aren’t there. Also, the app’s main features are conceptually flawed. This hyped-up-fan-turned-critic will give you all the details.


Casey Neistat is a Youtuber with more than 6 million subscribers. Neistat is an influencer in digital media and Beme co-founder Matt Hackett even called him an “attention rocket”. Neistat truly believed in their product and did not fail to resonate this message to his audience. Even some celebrities endorsed the app. The hype seems beneficial since 400,000 people downloaded Beme within the first week. But the hype seems to die from thereon. Did they make any marketing blunders? Was overhyping the app harmful? Apparently, it is and it’s all about expectations.


May 2016 saw the launch of Beme version 1.0 on iOS and on Android for the first time. With the launch came Neistat’s announcement that Beme is coming out from beta – almost a year after the first version launched.  He also admitted that the first version “did not deliver enough on the promises”.


Motivational Indie App Success Stories

We’ve all heard about the story behind the success of ‘Flappy Bird’, of how an unknown app developer made it to the top of the charts. There are a lot more app success stories like this. Amidst the reality of a very competitive market, there are still indie app developers that rise. They are not only an inspiration to other indie developers but also to other people who are facing obstacles in their pursuit of success.


These app success stories are quite different from our usual posts of the technical aspects of app development. Let’s take a short detour and learn from the human side of the industry.


App Success Stories


Andreas Illiger

App Success Stories Andreas Illiger

This German indie developer was one of those who hit jackpot in the nascent years of the App Store. Illiger’s app, Tiny Wings was the top grossing app for two weeks in 2011(February to March). It was eventually voted as the best iPhone game of that year. Its biggest win though is earning at about 10.5 installs for iPhone and 1.8 million installs for iPad.


As impressive as the app’s report card reads, the background story of its creation is also something of note. The main principle behind the app’s development was, to make something positive. Illiger thought that there’s too much negativity in the App Store at that time. Though simple, the app’s graphics and message resonate with the audience. It is also reflective of his own desire. He is afraid of heights, yet he always dreamed of flying.


But as someone that sees the world through rose-colored glasses, how did the sudden windfall affect Illiger? Apparently, it affected him little, meaning, he hasn’t gone crazy about it. His lifestyle before he hit big with Tiny Wings can be somewhat familiar to many of you. He lived in a cramped apartment – even post app success. During an interview on 2012, he detailed his lifestyle and routine.


Having studied Communication Design, Illiger basically sits down all day doing “creative stuff”. His routine starts at 9 a.m. and ends at about 1 a.m. He has a timer set for every hour. This alerts him to take a break. He believes that these frequent breaks make him more effective and healthy. Health is rather an important issue for him. He confessed that just a year before his big hit, he was so poor that he had to buy cheap (and probably unhealthy) food. The first thing that he mentioned as the most notable change in his life is the good food (organic mostly) that he is able to buy for himself.


But things weren’t always as they were, especially when his success became public knowledge. He was somewhat overwhelmed with the expectations and proposals. It was especially hard he says because he’s doing everything on his own. This made him consider the possibility of working in a team especially that he wants to focus on the creative side of things. He’s in no rush though and wants to meet the right people in his own time.


Jeremy Olson

App Success Stories Jeremy Olson

Jeremy Olson knows very well the struggle of running a small business, producing a quality product, and trying to support growing families at the same time. But he loves every part of it, especially how small indie developers can compete with the big companies and still win. “Indie” is in his blood.


Olson founded Tapity, a company composed of him, his father Todd, and his brother Josh. His app Grades had just won an Apple Design Award so they decided to go full-time on the company. But they soon realize that the app’s earnings can really fully support them. The story now becomes on how a company can go on beyond a single hit and how you can find innovative app ideas by just solving your own problem.


In a blog post, Olson detailed how their fledgling company accepted client work and the time tracking that was necessary to perform tasks. The ineffectiveness of a lot of time tracking solutions in addressing the human aspect of the problem became quite evident to the three-man team. They soon realize that they’re not alone in this problem. There’s a market for a time tracker they have in mind so they went on and made one.


That’s the simplest way to say it but the development phase wasn’t actually straightforward. There were just other things to be done, another app and client work to focus on. When the focus was finally on the time-tracking app the called “Hours”, Olson and his team did not occupy themselves with all the aspects of development. Rather, they hired some people to do most of the necessary coding while they focused on the app’s design. Olson’s principle is to constantly market the app, saying that marketing just around launch day is way too late. He introduced the app to people in the industry, wrote blog posts, and remained active on Twitter. Something he also emphasized is building good (and genuine) friendships with industry influencers and journalists through delivering good products and contributing helpful and timely information.


Hours soon received press coverage, a feature from Apple and rose up to became a top-grossing app.


Toni Fingerroos

App Success Stories Toni Fingerroos

The app “Hill Climb Racing” had simple graphics, straightforward mechanics, launched in the Google Play Store – and it was September 2012. This somehow made the then 29-year-old self-taught computer programmer, Toni Fingerroos the odd man out in the “Apple-friendly” Finnish startup scene.


Fingerroos launched “Hill Climb Racing” under his company, Fingersoft Oy (which he solely own). The end of 2013 saw the app with 140 million downloads, earning the company a net profit of about $12.7 million. Most of the app’s revenues come from advertising, in-app purchases, and upgrades. This is not bad at all for a company whose base is just an ordinary house with a working area doesn’t look corporate at all. Fingerroos emphasized that having fun is important in the company. “We believe it results in the best possible products,” in Fingerroos own words.


As of the beginning of the year, the company only has 28 employees. It was founded in 2011 and until 2014 only had a dozen employees. The company’s foundation about during a time where Fingerroos was in a financial strait. He had invested a lot of money into developing a game for PlayStation. The development eventual caused him to accumulate some debt. It was risky for him to build his own business at that time. But the idea of working for someone seem out of the question.


Finally coming up to a decision, he gambled with Android app development. But unlike other app success stories, a lot of trial and error occurred. Fingerroos would develop apps at a rapid pace just to see which of his ideas would work. There was no mention of ASO or any form of marketing at all! He believed that it is better to launch thousands of crappy apps than launch nothing at all.


But then one of his apps finally got traction. The app,“Cartoon Camera”  amassed about 10 million downloads. It kick-started Fingerroos app development career. His hit app, “Hill Climb Racing” looked simple enough but required finesse and concentration from the players, making it challenging and engaging.


In late 2016, Fingersoft launched the app’s sequel, “Hill Climb Racing 2”. As of January 2017, it already reached 40 million downloads.