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🚀 today: an information hub

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  • ios
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TL;DR Apply the Unix principle when making apps; make one thing that does one thing very well

Product first

💭 The idea

I had this idea for an app couple of years ago that would tell you everything you would want to know about in the morning. From checking Twitter, the news and etc, you would be able to do all the routine things you do every morning within a single app. And I thought people would buy it because it would allow them save their precious time in the morning while keeping them updated on what is happening.

The Preparation

I first made a list of features that I would build into the app.

  1. Weather — show the current temperature and preferably a 3-day forecast of hi’s and low’s
  2. Twitter — show the trending topics and the user’s timeline. The user should be able to favorite, re-tweet and maybe compose new tweets as well
  3. News —show only the top news plus couple of topics the user is interested in
  4. Reminders & Calendars — calendar plus a to-do list with data imported from the stock Apple apps
  5. Stocks — display some basic information of stocks

UI Ideas

With that, I went on to think about what the app would look like.

The first was something that looked very similar to the Windows Phone’s live tile system. There would be tiles with their own little bits of information (maybe the tiles would flip around playfully to show more information) After the user taps on the tile, it would push a new view controller to show some more information and so forth. Simple enough.

The next idea was something that is very similar to the UISlideController. The idea was to have 5 ‘slides’ as you would have in a classic UISlideController/UIPageController combo and have the user slide through them. When the user reaches the last slide, a quirky animation would play and say something like “You’ve been updated!”. Golden.

After some thought, I decided to go with the UISlideController idea and after couple of months of writing some horrible Objective-C code, I had myself an MVP.

😢 The bad news

After having the MVP in my phone for a couple of weeks, I realized something;

I didn’t even want to use my own app.

It wasn’t the design or the execution. It was just that there was something missing. Maybe it was the magical App Store fairy dust but it just didn’t feel right.

Since I had spent some time and effort to make the damn thing, I decided to go all in and finish the product; which was the wrong move looking at it now. I gave it a killer name ‘today — an information hub’ and even an App Store preview video with trendy background beats. And of course, as I had expected, it failed miserably. After having been on the App Store for about 3 months, 300 copies of it have been sold.

Why did this happen?

So, why did the app fail?

After having read tons of blogs and articles about app design and structure, I came to a realization of why the app failed. It wasn’t the design or the marketing that was bad.

The app tried to do so many things that it failed at doing one thing right

This app inherently disobeyed the UNIX law and for those who don’t know what that is, here’s an analogy. Disobeying the UNIX law is equivalent to a chef going into the kitchen with a Swiss Army knife. He may think that he is going to be super productive with all his fancy knives ready in his pocket. But after trying to cut a piece of steak with the tiny knife, he would be wrong.

The same thing applies here. The weather part of the app was fine but everything else was horrible. If someone wants to read the news, they want a wide selection of articles to choose from. When someone wants to know how their stocks are doing, they don’t just want to see a crude graph and some meaningless data. People want options, selections, and extra features that allow them to accomplish what they want.

In the end

I think there are two lessons to take away from this experience. First is,

Don’t make an app nobody wants

and the second is

Pick one key feature and get it right UNIX ftw

Building an app with 100 features is not going to sell and plus, it’s going to be a pain in the ass to build.

Well… there goes my million dollar idea. On to find my next million dollar idea