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June 9, 2011

Appstravaganza – all about priorities

GLOBAL – So, with the help of personas, we’ve come up with a really long list of what we’d like our new Nokia Conversations app to be able to achieve. What’s the next step? It’s to try to prioritise those items into three lists. Essentials, nice to have and not really necessary at all.

Falling into the essentials list comes things like ‘reading the latest blog posts‘ and ‘playing the latest podcast‘. Nice to have is trickier, because the list could potentially go on forever. Things that aren’t necessary is stuff like the newsletter sign-up page and the About page. But how do we pare things down better?

An unfortunate truth about software projects is that we can’t have everything. A developer colleague always says to clients:

You can have it good, cheap or fast. Choose two.

And there’s always some other constraints. Time, for example. This app has to be out of the door and on your phones by the end of the summer. Then there’s money, of course, which can amount to the same thing.

There are also constraints that come from this being a mobile app. Generally speaking, people like apps that don’t try to do everything: doing a few things, even just one thing, very well is more important. Visually, things have to be a lot less cluttered than they need be on a desktop app or a web page.

Here’s five items from our original nice to have list:

  • Include Nokia Twitter posts
  • Visual search with thumbnails
  • Homescreen widget
  • Comment reply notification
  • Disqus integration

At this point, we don’t necessarily have to cut any of these features to get the app done in time. But we do need to decide which to work on first, once all the basics are in place. That may well mean that the stuff at the bottom of the list doesn’t make it to the final cut.

So we asked our developers at Digia to guess-timate how hard each of things are. Here’s the results.

  • Include Nokia Twitter posts (EASY)
  • Visual search with thumbnails (HARD)
  • Homescreen widget (MEDIUM)
  • Comment reply notification (MEDIUM)
  • Disqus integration (MEDIUM)

So that’s pretty much made our minds up that it’s not worth spending a big chunk of our allotted development time on a visual search. We also realised that on a mobile phone, it might be very slow compared to a plain text search.

It’s also made our minds up on including Disqus. We think it adds a lot to commenting on blogs. Apparently, there are still some things that might go wrong when dealing with the API (so no promises yet), but spending extra time on that means we don’t have to spend time on building a new, not-as-good comments system from scratch. There’s a bit of a risk, here, though. What if we can’t get it to work and so we have to build a new comments system anyway? We’re proceeding cautiously.

Including @Nokia tweets would be easy, it seems. But we started to get second thoughts about that, too. It adds an extra screen to our app, and it’s doing something that you can already get from Nokia Social and many excellent third-party apps.

Comment reply notification was also something we thought twice about. Disqus can already be set to send you notifications of replies. So why not just use that?

The widget’s still in, though.

What we’ve started to feel is that less is more. We’ve still got a number of very nice interface elements on our list, but they’re largely about making it easier, more pleasurable and useful to read blog posts on the move.

We’ll share some first draft sketches of the interface in the next appstravaganza post.

image credit: Sister72