Editorial – the relationship between developers and users

I did not plan this post, but as I received an email yesterday from another developer, this changed. This post will be an Editorial about the relationship between developers and users.

Users and developers do have a problem. Users have expectations for our apps. We developers have to fulfill these expectations. Here is an image I found on the web, that describes the situation quite well:

Of course, this is a funny Picture. But in the last few weeks sadly this image turned out to be kind of  true. I talked also to other developers, and they made similar experiences. I will try to explain why feedback is important to us developers.

It all starts with an idea. The idea can come from a friend, a family member or from a situation your life. For my very first app the situation was simply the app I searched was not out there in the marketplace and it is no pleasure to use the mobile web in some situation (e.g. while fishing). For another app a discussion on my primary work was the reason.

If you are an app developer, you now sit down and create a concept. You have to think about a lot of things:

  • which features do I want in my application?
  • do I already know all to get this features into my app?
  • where can I learn about features that I want but do not know how to code them?
  • How does the UI have to look?
  • How much time will it cost to create a first running application?
  • what are the limitations of the OS I am coding for?
  • how can I promote my apps?
  • and certainly a few other things

Until now, we do not have written one line of code, but already spent a few hours if not days only in planning phase. At some point, of course we start coding. The coding and designing process is followed by ups and downs, where you have to reconsider features, sometimes even have to rethink your whole attempt on how to create the app.

I have a very good example for that. Initially I tried to use animated gifs in my app “fishing knots +” . It turned out that Windows Phone does not support this image format natively. So I searched a way to achieve my goal and let Windows Phone learn it within my app. There are some solutions out there, but I was not satisfied with the result. So I started to search for alternatives and found one that suites it very well: a storyboard for each animation. But then I had another problem: For a storyboard animation, you need single images, not a finished gif animation. Luckily one of my co-workers could help me out and created the images for me, so I was able to use it. But it took also some time for him to create the images (12 knots with at least 10 images). I created the basic images, and he did his magic. The result was great.

Now we have a very basic version of our app that runs, and can also be shown to some people. And of course, friends, coworkers and family are your first “customers” that give you some feedback. You should be grateful for the feedback they provide, as it often offers you sights on which you do not think while developing the app. Also if that means you have to rewrite a bunch of your code. They are no developers (in most cases). They are just users. Let them play around with your app (best on a real device!), and do write down every single point they tell you. Feedback is good, and helps you to evolve.

Now that we have done this, our app at some point reaches the state of being submitted to the Marketplace/Store. You should never start with a final version number like 1.0 for that. 1.0 suggests a user that it is a finished product with nearly no error. And they errors will come. I did not see a single app that was without issues on the first release, neither on the following updates. This counts for my apps as well as for apps of other developers. But that is not a bad thing. Once you have published your app, you have the possibility to obtain more feedback. This time from real end users.

To achieve this, you should offer a way to give feedback within your application. Here is my attempt that I have in every of my apps:

 

 

As you can see, I integrated a few ways to obtain feedback. I created a twitter handle, where users can give feedback and follow for actual announcements for my apps. Nowadays a Facebook page is also an advantage, and then users have the ability to send me an email to provide more detailed feedback. And one thing you never should miss: a direct link from your app to the review section of your app in Marketplace.

So from our part, we did all to get some feedback. Now to you, user of our app! We want you to give us some feedback! What we want is feedback that helps us to understand what you expect.

Sadly a lot of users are rating an app with less stars, providing no feedback or only harsh words for the app. A rating for an app was delivered with less than 5 stars because the app is not free. Another one gave me 1 start and as comment: “great”. That is not feedback that can be used to improve the app.

Another example is glƏƏk! for Windows 8. It is an really fast and fantastic twitter app. I use also their Windows Phone version, and I am absolutely happy with it.

The first versions of the Windows 8 app had some problems and was crashing a lot. Users, of course, wrote that into their reviews. But how many of them did give them feedback to improve the app? As I am in contact with the developers, I know that they did not get a lot of feedback to iron out all those issues. Feedback is important to us developers. We need to know in which cases you, the users, have the issues. We have to reproduce the error, but that is nearly impossible without your feedback.

I understand that you give a bad rating to an app if it crashes a lot or if you are constantly facing other problems. And we developers try to iron out every single point you tell us. If you see that the experience has improved, you also should honor the work we do for you and update your rating and review. glƏƏk! had some issues like all other twitter clients on Windows 8, too. In the meantime, glƏƏk! was updated nearly every day to iron out other issues, and finally we have a non crashing version.  But no one updated their reviews and ratings. Sure, some may have uninstalled the app, others are having it  still but do not updated their rating/review. This is frustrating for developers who do not get a lot of feedback via email or other channels but only via the ratings.

Please, do not take this as advice to not rate our apps. We want your ratings. But be fair. If something is wrong with one of our apps, please tell us! But I beg you to understand that we only can work with quality feedback, so please use twitter/Facebook/email, whatever we offer you. Give us as much information as you can, answer to our questions if we have them to you.  And please update your ratings after we have ironed out your issues.

Please not also that we are no aliens. We are humans like you after all. And we are  also users.

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