Helping your users grok your app the way you do

Whether you explicitly created it or not, you have a conceptual model of your app, or site. What parts do what. What they are called. And how they fit together.

This is different from the visual model, for your iPad app could look very different from your iPhone app and your web app.

So it’s important that your users grok the app the way you intend them to, and the best way is to quickly and simply walk them through it at first use.

Things 3 does it quite well for a sophisticated app:

Note that doing this is straightforward because Things has also designed its main, home screen to reflect that conceptual model.

It could have been a set of menu options tucked away under s hamburger, or tab bars with a ‘more’ tab for expansion. Or worse the model could have been multi-level, making it truly difficult to communicate. See Swarm’s splash screens attempting to do the same thing:

It’s a great app that I like using, but the screenshots here don’t do nearly as good a job setting expectations with a new user about what the app’s about (Swarm recently radically redesigned their app, so even an existing user was, for this purpose, a new one).

Things designed their app so that the model is (mostly) single-level, and reflected on a single screen.

Phone manufacturers != manufacturers of phones

Podcasts have changed my commute since I got the iPhone. I’ve discovered NPR’s This American Life and Fresh Air, BBC’s Excess Baggage and Click, Gruber’s and Dan Benjamin’s The Talk Show and the NYT’s Times Talks and Bits. All of them free in the iTunes store.

Even though all of these were available for free download as MP3s, and I knew (most) existed, I never listened to them on my previous phones.

I recall subscribing to a bunch of NYT podcasts on my Nokia. Checking and downloading five MP3s in parallel, creating a desktop folder each week, copying it to my phone memory card and deleting last week’s folder, refreshing and waiting ten+ minutes while the music player scanned the SD card and detected the new episodes (and identified them as songs, not podcasts), and having to painstakingly navigate to where I had left off a podcast if I wanted to resume. It was a pain and I soon gave up.

The iTunes-iPhone integration makes all the difference. iTunes has nailed catalog and content, discovery, subscription and billing. It has nailed auto-download from the Internet. It has nailed silent and automatic sync with iPhone. It has nailed keeping only the most recent n episodes on-device. And iPhone remembers where I left off, per podcast.

And so then here’s what happens: during the day, the iPhone is plugged in to USB, charging. iTunes is downloading the latest episodes of my subscriptions and syncing with iPhone. Once I subscribe I don’t have to do a thing, ever. New episodes are just *there*.

But iPods have been able to do this for about a decade now. And iPhone for nearly four years. No other phone is able to manage music – and playlists and podcasts and videos and photos and contacts and bookmarks and, yes, apps – anywhere as well. You just have to say the others have been lazy.

Or I guess if phone manufacturers still consider themselves to be that – manufacturers of phones – then they’re missing a lot.