Windows RT is dead – and that’s good for freedom

Windows RT – the cut-down, half-fat, limited, unloved version of the world’s most famous operating system – is officially dead. Microsoft tweeted us to confirm:

That it was in terminal decline is of no surprise to anyone, though manufacturers do like to string these things out. It quickly became apparent that people weren’t going to buy RT unless there were apps for it, and developers weren’t going to write apps for it unless people started buying it. Ultimately neither side broke the cycle. It’s perhaps telling that in the entire history of Apps In The Sky, we’ve never once been asked to create an app for Windows RT.

The death of RT is a victory – perhaps incidentally, but a victory nonetheless – for freedom. RT represented Microsoft’s first forays into closed-system computing. That is, RT was intentionally locked down so that it could only run software that had been pre-approved, screened and censored by Microsoft. This set a potentially dangerous precedent, because it gave a single commercial organisation the complete power of veto over everything you might want to do with your computer. If you wanted an RT app we would have had to first check against Microsoft’s rules that what you wanted was OK by them, even if you were the only person who was going to use it.

The technology also had the potential to permit more sinister, draconian policies. What if Microsoft started rejecting apps which were beneficial to consumers, but against their own commercial interests? There would be nothing you could do, for example, if they one day banned Chrome/Firefox and forced everyone to use Internet Explorer.
That consumers have overwhelmingly voted against it, even where not for this reason, is an important step. We hope Microsoft will learn from this experience. Don’t believe the haters: Windows is a truly great operating system, and Windows 10 in particular looks superb. We hope it will forever maintain its openness and the right of the consumer to choose what they want to do with their computer. The future is surely bright.

5 Things To Look For in a Mobile App Developer

Mobile app development is a tricky, tricky thing. Some of our competitors get it right, but (and we’re not just saying this) many of them do not. There are a lot of poorly-developed apps around. We thought it would help to put together a list of what you should look for in an app developer.

To declare the elephant in the room: obviously, we’re app developers ourselves. If you need someone to develop an app for you, we’d love to help. But if you want to go elsewhere, that’s fine too. We’re writing this just to help you identify the good guys from the not-so-good guys.

1. Find someone who really understands the platforms

Each app store publishes a long list of dos and don’ts for apps. These are the rules for the platform, and they are very comprehensive. Here are the rules for Google Play, Apple iTunes, the Windows Store.

Some of them are hard-and-fast (such as not being allowed to use in-app payments for real-world goods), and some of them are guidelines (such as how the app responds to user interaction).

There are some rules that, if broken, your app will be immediately rejected. Conversely there are some guidelines which, carefully and sparingly, should be broken otherwise your app just won’t stand out from the crowd. A good app developer

2. …and be able to tell you what each platform’s users expect

For example, both Android and Apple users expect to be able to share content (eg: post a link for what they’re looking at onto Facebook, or send a picture to a friend on WhatsApp), but the Android share icon looks like this: and the Apple one looks like this:. Put the wrong icon in, and users won’t know what it means, so your content won’t get shared.

As another example, Apple users expect their affirmative Next/OK button to appear in the top right hand corner of the screen. Android users expect it at the bottom. Put it in the wrong place and your users will probably find it, eventually, but the app will feel slightly odd and alienating to them.

If your app developer designs your app to look and feel exactly the same on each platform, it will feel wrong to your users, and potentially give an impression of poor quality. A good app developer will talk you through all the platform differences relevant to your app.

3. Someone who will post the app to the stores

Posting an app to the app stores is a complex business. There’s a lot of information to provide, a lot of hoops to jump through and, unfortunately, a lot of red tape to work against.

A specialist app developer will have done this a thousand times before and know exactly what to expect. For example they will know the sizes of all the screenshots needed, and they will know which export declarations to sign if your app uses encryption. They will also be able to advise on writing a good app description which is attractive to users.

4. …and who will manage the relationship with the stores for you

The app stores can be very demanding – particularly Apple.

App store rules change all the time, and it can affect your store listing. When rules changes, you will receive a technical description of the updates your app requires. A good app developer should receive these notifications on your behalf, and explain what needs to be done to keep your app live. Without this your app could be removed from the store.

Sometimes (though rarely) an app is removed from the app store without warning. Your app developer should be able to find out why this has happened and what the solution is.

5. They should be able to make the most of push notifications

When managed properly, push notifications are fantastic – they are a great way of sending highly-targeted messages to individuals or groups of users. They can be very effective at engaging users and providing calls-t0-action without being intrusive.

Your developer should also be able to advise how to use push notifications for maximum effect. Sending too many, or saying the wrong thing, for example, will be a turn off to your users.

Push notifications require a particular, relatively complex, back-end system. A good developer will have created this for their clients, and it should allow you to send targeted messages to single users, and broadcasts to everyone.

 

Bring more mobile users, and make them stick around

About 42% of visitors to your website will be using mobile devices. A growing proportion of users (currently around 15%) don’t even have laptops or desktops to fall back to.

The immediate danger to organisations, therefore, is that their site may not be suitable for this large proportion of users. If there is too much effort involved in using your site – for example if elements are too fiddly to tap, or pages require a lot of panning and zooming to read, then this proportion of your audience will leave you for someone else.

Unfortunately, most websites developed over 24 months ago, and even some more modern ones, do not properly cater for mobile users. Look at each page on your website with your smartphone, and if all you see is a tiny copy of the same page you see on your laptop/desktop, then there are significant improvements  which can be made. A site which requires constant pinch zooming and panning is too much effort to work with, and won’t keep its visitors.

A responsive site is one which smartly rearranges itself to fit the device it’s being viewed on. For example, it will display text in three columns on a laptop, two on a tablet and one on a phone. On small touch-driven devices it will ensure that buttons and links are large enough to hit accurately with a finger. And the navigation will be laid out to fit the device.

Take a look at Apps In The Sky’s website for example. On a desktop PC it looks like this:

Apps In The Sky website, from a desktop PC

On a phone it looks like this:

Apps In The Sky website on a phone

Note how the navigation is moved into a pull-down menu on the top right, to prevent it from being too small to tap. The text has been moved into one thin column so it fits naturally on a phone screen. And importantly, notice how nothing has been removed – every piece of information, option and functionality remains. (This compares to the old fashioned “mobile” sites, which were just a cut-down version of the main site, and generally had people reaching for the “view full site” button).

So a responsive site is a bare minimum for practically any organisation. If you don’t already have one, then creating one will provide more visitors, whose better experience means they will stay for longer. It is a great, and relatively simple, way to improve business.

However a website, even a well crafted responsive one, still suffers many problems common to all websites. For example, perhaps obviously, no website is of any use when your internet connection is poor – a situation common to most mobile users on the move. And a website can only provide generic information: it knows very little about its visitors, so its messaging is necessarily generic rather than highly-targeted. These problems can be solved with a dedicated app… the subject of next week’s blog!

Which platforms should I target: iOS, Android, …?

Android, iOS, Windows Phone… what makes most commercial sense, and which audience is best for my app? We are often asked this question at Apps In The Sky.

Time was it had an easy answer. You released an app for Apple iOS first and others later if at all. Apple had the most users, the largest app store and – arguably – the best system.

Then Android upset that. Since about 2009 its rise has been meteoric and now it has the most users by far – 7 times as many as iOS, which is the next largest. So surely the question once again has an easy answer?

Well… no. As with all questions of marketing it depends on your audience, and Android and iOS users are very different.

  • iOS users pay more. Possibly due to the expense of developing and publishing to the Apple App Store, and possibly due to the fact that it’s smaller altogether, it has much fewer free titles available than Android. Generally therefore Apple users are more resigned to paying for extra functionality.
  • Android users are a much wider base. The sheer range of devices available, from entry-level to top end, make it almost universally suitable. It is used by all kinds of people from CEOs to your gran.
  • iOS users are generally more tech-savvy. All of Apple’s products are at the most expensive end of their markets, and generally the people who spend more on phones/tablets are the people who know more about them.

There are other differences too, and the market split is quite interesting. We have published a whitepaper with more information.

But if you want our quick answer: wait, and release both together. Usually our customers have invested significant marketing resource in that first big “splash”, and just makes sense that your message can apply to your whole audience.

To read more, see our whitepaper: Which Platform?