Honing Your PM Skills: What To Look At When Looking At An App

I came across a wonderful post by Julie Zhuo on Medium today which I think is a must-read for all mobile product managers. Ms. Zhuo put together a list of questions to ask yourself in what I’ll call the three stages of app design: before the download, the first use and onboarding process, and the next few weeks. I’d like to offer a few additional questions, mostly based on my Android experience:

Before the download:

Ms. Zhuo asks three questions: what brought the app to your attention, what is your one-line summary of the app at this stage, and what’s the buzz so far.

I’d add one more: For Android, what permissions are being asked for by the app.

As more and more people are checking permissions before downloading, the app needs to be sure it really needs all the permissions it asks for. I’m usually extremely hesitant to let an app access my identity functions and I only let the rarest, most trusted apps access my contacts. I have often not downloaded an app if it asked for too many permissions right off the start.

Apple lets developers ask for permissions (beyond the basics) during use so this is less of a hindrance than in Android.

Onboarding/first use:

Ms. Zhuo asks: what is the experience of getting started, does the app explain itself in the first minute, how easy it was to use, how did you feel while exploring it, did the app deliver on your your expectations, and how long did you spend using the app.

All are important, but for me the fourth question struck a chord when it asked about interaction and navigation. There is a very fine line between delighting the user with new ways to interact with the app and frustrating the user because they cannot find a certain functionality. Many apps unintentionally hide settings that should be easier to access. Others use icons that are either unclear or have already been used for another functionality. In a recent photo editing app I downloaded it wasn’t clear how to save the photo after edits were made. I ended up accidentally deleting a photo I’d spend a few minutes editing. Frustrating.

Six functions accessible only after a press and scroll.

Six functions accessible only after a press and scroll.

There are apps that for the sake of clean and uncluttered design hide too many functions in one place and require dexterous fingers to reach. Snapseed, in the example to the right, has six different image adjustment options that pop up only if you press and then scroll. It’s awkward even when you know how to find it.

Always remember that you need to know your user… and you are not thy user.

After a few weeks:

Ms. Zhuo asks: how often have you used it and what compels you to open it, how does it compare to similar apps, and what do other people think of it. Based on what you know, where do you think it will be in a year, and how accurate was your prediction.

To this I’d like to add from the Android perspective: how does the app behave when you’re not using it? Are notifications easy to manage and dismiss? What is their frequency? Does it pop up when you don’t expect it, such as when connecting to Bluetooth or WiFi?

How does the app integrate advertising? Is it very disruptive? How often does it appear?

Finally, I have to agree with her first question in this set: how often do you use it and what compels you to open it. Figure that out, and you’re gold.


One thought on “Honing Your PM Skills: What To Look At When Looking At An App

  1. Pingback: Permissions and the App Conversion Funnel | What it all boils down to

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