While reading a New York Times review of a barhopping app I will probably never try, I came across two product challenges that are applicable for other apps as well. Happy is an app that shows users where to find deals in bars across Manhattan and Brooklyn for their own, personal happy hour.
First up in the app review: “The service has obvious appeal, but its biggest problem right now is getting those who have downloaded it to try it.” For the Happy app, this means going into the featured bars and ordering drinks. Other apps, such as Uber and ZIRX, are similar to Happy in that they require an action in the real world as opposed to the purely virtual apps, such as email, messaging, and social apps. The initial use barrier for the latter is much lower than the former. For apps that require this interaction, it might be best to either break it up into smaller steps, though admittedly this isn’t possible with many of them. Another option is to use social influence and other users to guide newbies. Finally, dangle the carrot: the first experience should be cheaper and perhaps even free. Anything to help new users take that first step.
Second up: “If the app grows bigger and more complex, first-time users might feel overwhelmed.” This, to me, was the more important of the two challenges. There always seems to be a tradeoff between complexity that experienced users want vs the simplicity that new users need to get started. The Happy app has attempted to solve its complexity with good design (as per the review.) But what is the lesson for other apps? Will good design always solve the problem? Should some features be hidden away at first use, perhaps by making them harder to access? Should settings be the key to turn advanced features on? Perhaps a longer and more detailed onboarding process is the key?
These decisions also depend on the target audience of the app and how technically savvy they are expected to be. Consider the other apps the target audience uses and learn from them how to structure the app flow, the interactions and advanced features.
Finally, go back to the first release of a product, the one with the limited feature set, and think of it as the version for new users. It’s that focus on the “minimally viable” feature set that might be able to guide future product growth.