Under the Radar

121: Fear and Change


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Under the Radar. Under the Radar is a show about independent iOS

00:00:04   app development. I'm David Smith. Usually I am joined by Marco Arment, but unfortunately

00:00:08   he has lost his voice and that makes broadcasting profoundly difficult. But nevertheless, the

00:00:14   show will never be longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:17   Okay, so I'm not sure how many people actually who listen to the show would remember, but

00:00:24   back several years ago, I used to do a show by myself called Developing Perspective, and

00:00:29   that show was never longer than 15 minutes, which was a constraint that I put on myself,

00:00:37   mostly so that I would actually do the show. I found that when I started it out, I just

00:00:42   wanted to have a podcast, and I decided that having it be this open-ended thing was much

00:00:47   more intimidating than every week, just saying, "Well, I'll just sit down and think of 15

00:00:52   minutes of things to say. How hard can it be to talk for 15 minutes?" And so I developed

00:00:57   the skill of doing that, and what I decided to do this week, because Marco is sick, was

00:01:01   to refresh that skill and do two roughly 15-minute segments of the show this week, partly because

00:01:11   I think that works well for a single-person thing to break it into chunks, but also just

00:01:17   as a general rule, I try and make sure that I never lose skills once I gain them. I think

00:01:22   in general that's a good way to approach life, that in general we should hopefully be learning

00:01:26   new things as we go. We should be improving ourselves and getting better, and if I lose

00:01:32   a skill that I've learned or it becomes too rusty to be useful, that's not great. That's

00:01:36   problematic. And so I was like, "Well, this is actually a perfect opportunity for me to

00:01:41   refresh the skill of doing a single show, a one-man show, 15 minutes or less, not because

00:01:47   I expect to need that skill in the short term, but nevertheless I want to make sure I don't

00:01:51   lose it." So that's the general flow of this week, and I'm going to do two short segments,

00:01:58   and hopefully it works. We'll be back to our normally scheduled programming next week,

00:02:01   so if it doesn't work, don't worry, just come back next week and it'll be back to normal.

00:02:06   So for our first topic that I wanted to talk about this week, I'm going to talk about the

00:02:10   perils and pitfalls of developing things, being driven mostly by a fear of missing out

00:02:17   rather than a conscious choice or desire. And this is a situation that I find myself

00:02:24   in this week, and this is a pattern that has happened many times over my development career

00:02:30   where I see an opportunity. I see something that I think I could take advantage of. I

00:02:36   see something that I could be a part of, and sometimes these opportunities are big, sometimes

00:02:43   these opportunities are small, but nevertheless, these are opportunities. And the pitfall and

00:02:49   the danger that I've had to learn is that so often, while the opportunity may be good,

00:02:54   while the opportunity may be genuine, it may not always be for me. It may be something

00:03:01   that isn't worth pursuing because it will put myself in a position down the road that

00:03:07   will be slightly problematic or won't be genuine or true to my interests or passions or whatever

00:03:12   you want to look at it. And the specific example why this is top of mind for me this week is

00:03:18   there was an article that I'll link to in the show notes that was about how the new

00:03:23   Apple Watch Series 3 now has the ability to track skiing and snowboarding workouts. And

00:03:28   Apple has kind of made a big deal about this. You know, a big article in their main PR section,

00:03:34   they seem to kind of push it out to a variety and a pretty wide swath of news publications.

00:03:42   They're trying to make a big deal out of this. And that's awesome. And one of the people

00:03:46   who are being featured in this is a friend of mine, Curtis Herbert, who makes the Slopes

00:03:50   app, which, you know, by all accounts, I'm not a skier or snowboarder myself, which I'll

00:03:54   get to in a minute is why this is problematic. But he makes this great app that looks perfect.

00:03:59   And he's had this great Slopes diary where he has talked through kind of the independent

00:04:05   development aspects of this app. It's a very, you know, he, for the most part, is an independent

00:04:10   app that, you know, he develops himself. And it's really cool to see him being held up

00:04:17   there with a couple of other apps. But what's awkward for me is that this was a feature

00:04:22   that I thought about adding to Workouts++. Because basically, in the Series 3 Apple Watch,

00:04:29   they, you know, they added a, you know, some tools to make monitoring skiing and snowboarding

00:04:37   workouts fairly straightforward, that in many ways, I can treat them like other workout

00:04:42   types that, like a run or a cycle or something like that, where the watch itself is doing

00:04:48   a lot of the tricky processing that I ordinarily would need to have done myself, you know,

00:04:56   in terms of safe, you know, segmenting your activity so that it can detect when you're,

00:05:00   you know, when you're going downhill, when you're maybe on a ski lift and partitioning

00:05:04   things out, calculating a variety of statistics about this. And it made it a lot fairly straightforward.

00:05:10   And when I saw this feature come out, or be added to the SDK, I knew this was something

00:05:15   that Apple was going to kind of be putting some weight behind. And I think some of that

00:05:19   was just because, A, they mentioned it specifically during the Series 3 Apple Watch, like on stage

00:05:27   presentation that they made this kind of offhand comment that didn't really have any best,

00:05:32   any backing in like, information at the time that he just like, Jeff Williams just mentioned

00:05:38   that this is going to be great for skiing and snowboarding apps. And then it didn't

00:05:43   really there wasn't much to it until I think it was watchOS 4.2 actually added the, the

00:05:51   workout types and all this workout processing stuff. And so then suddenly all these apps

00:05:54   could take advantage of it. And, you know, it's like, when it's mentioned on stage, when

00:06:00   it's mentioned kind of late cycle like this, it seems like the kind of thing where it's

00:06:03   a good marketing opportunity for Apple to kind of create a something topical and newsworthy

00:06:09   about a product, you know, just try and, you know, bump up sales again, thought that they

00:06:13   necessarily need it. But in terms of, you know, it's this, it's after the Christmas

00:06:17   rush of watch purchases, I imagine they're looking for opportunities to, you know, give

00:06:23   give people a reason to get an Apple Watch and specifically to get a new Apple Watch

00:06:26   to get a Series 3 Apple Watch. And so it made sense that this was going to be something

00:06:30   they would push. And so I investigated this and I, you know, I will say like, I'm not

00:06:35   a skier or snowboarder, I have like fallen down the hill a few times in my life, trying

00:06:40   to ski, or trying to snowboard, but it's never really been something that I do. It's something

00:06:45   I've done for fun, maybe. I think I did it once in the last 10 years. And it was fine.

00:06:50   And it was interesting. But it wasn't, it's not something that I avidly do. It's not something

00:06:54   that I have a passion for. And I tried to implement this feature. And it was in some

00:07:01   ways straightforward, like I could very easily add it to Workouts++. But I didn't really

00:07:05   know how people would use it in practice, the things that they would actually want or

00:07:11   be interested in. And then also, it was kind of tricky for me, because to really test something

00:07:16   like this, you probably have to go skiing, and you probably have to go snowboarding.

00:07:21   And I'm sure I could have found somebody to beta test it or kind of work on it. But it's

00:07:24   a hard thing if it's not something that I have really any personal connection to, and

00:07:29   don't know somebody, you know, who will go skiing or snowboarding on a regular basis.

00:07:33   You know, I similarly in Workouts++, I don't do a lot of swimming myself. But I have my

00:07:40   wife and I have a good friend who does go swimming a lot, and they were able to give

00:07:45   me a lot of good feedback. And you know, going swimming on a regular basis is much more practical

00:07:50   than going skiing or snowboarding on a regular basis. And I mean, I remember seeing Curtis

00:07:54   talking about how he, you know, had to go on these trips where he was, you know, skiing

00:07:59   down a mountain with a, you know, a laptop in his backpack, trying to kind of then like

00:08:03   stopping at the bottom and checking how it was working, and then, you know, doing it

00:08:07   again. And like, it's a really complicated thing to test and to debug. And there was

00:08:11   no simulator support for it either. So that was doubly tricky. So in the end, I decided

00:08:16   to not add this feature, to not pursue being part of the push for skiing and snowboard

00:08:26   tracking apps. And then now, this week, you know, I see the fruits of what may have possibly

00:08:33   been if I had pursued it. And that's not to say that if I'd added it to Workouts++ that,

00:08:38   you know, my app would have been caught up in this publicity push. But I think there

00:08:42   is a non-zero chance of that nevertheless. But I don't regret it at all. And I kind of

00:08:48   wanted to unpack why I don't regret it. And I think it's coming from an experience I've

00:08:52   had many times where often I see something that is clear that Apple is going to push,

00:08:58   that there is going to be this sort of this opportunity for quote unquote, like free publicity.

00:09:04   And I've got pursued it in the past. But the awkward reality is that publicity is not free.

00:09:10   That is, in fact, comes with tremendous costs. And often they are the kind of external hard

00:09:15   to quantify type of costs that are the most insidious. You know, for example, iMessage

00:09:20   apps was an example of something like this where it was, you know, when iMessage apps

00:09:26   were introduced to iOS, they were kind of pushed and promoted. And it seemed like something

00:09:31   that Apple was going to put a fair bit of weight to. And I, you know, was like, okay,

00:09:37   great, let's go for it. Let's make some iMessage apps. And I made iMessage apps for a bunch

00:09:40   of my apps. And as best I can tell, it's led to almost no use or very limited use, nevertheless.

00:09:48   You know, I don't have great statistics for it. But I from what I can understand, the

00:09:54   apps are very poorly used. And I have to maintain them going forward. And I didn't really get

00:10:01   much out of it. In that case, there was, you know, Apple was promoting them. And I my apps

00:10:09   were picked up in a couple of the, you know, the promotional things in the App Store. And,

00:10:13   you know, certainly not to the degree of an article in, you know, in the PR section. But

00:10:18   it was, you know, certainly something that had a little bit of push. But the awkward

00:10:22   thing is, even when I was making them, I was looking at these things and being like, is

00:10:26   anyone actually going to use this? Like, is this really the way someone is going to, you

00:10:32   know, choose to interact with the app and we're like kind of forcing it into into something

00:10:37   that I didn't really understand, that I didn't use myself and that, you know, as a result

00:10:43   was never really going to have that level of care and attention and quality that I think

00:10:49   you you would hope or I, you know, I ideally have in a product you make. And this is where

00:10:55   I think sort of like the end lesson comes from this is that it's important to, you know,

00:11:01   develop things because you want to develop them that because you think it'll be interesting

00:11:07   or useful, or ideally even something that you will use yourself on a regular basis.

00:11:14   I know for myself that my best apps are the ones that I use myself on a regular basis

00:11:19   that I use every day that are solving actual felt problems that I feel and apps that I'm

00:11:25   not developing out of a fear of missing out on an opportunity that I'm not just like doing

00:11:29   it because or to try and time or take advantage of something because if I don't use if I don't

00:11:36   use it on a regular basis, if it isn't, you know, sort of any in any way kind of overlapping

00:11:41   with my interests, it's it even if it does get picked up, even if it does create an opportunity,

00:11:46   I'm either then going to be stuck kind of maintaining something I don't care about,

00:11:50   or probably more likely I'll end up having to maintain or having to kill off or, you

00:11:55   know, make tricky decisions about something that didn't actually pay off in the first

00:12:00   place. So anyway, it was just an experience I had this week that I saw this and I was

00:12:05   like super glad and excited for the people who got picked up. But definitely in the back

00:12:09   of my mind, I had this twinge of, well, that could have been me, you know, well, like I

00:12:14   could have done that I started going down that road. And as a brief aside, slightly

00:12:18   comedically, when I was initially testing this, because like I said, you there's no

00:12:23   simulator support to test my initial like prototype implementation of this, I tried

00:12:28   to work out how best to simulate skiing or snowboarding. And the best I could come up

00:12:33   with in terms of a motion and activity that would simulate skiing was that I rode my bike

00:12:40   up the biggest hill I could find in my neighborhood, and then sort of glided down the hill as you

00:12:47   know, sort of fairly quickly, and got to the bottom, waited a minute and then walked my

00:12:51   way back up kind of trying to simulate being in a ski lift. And I did that a couple of

00:12:56   times to simulate being a ski run, which half worked half didn't, but was, you know, nevertheless,

00:13:01   slightly comedic. And I imagine me, my neighbors think that I was kind of crazy to just be

00:13:06   I was just biking up and down this hill over and over and over again. But you know, that

00:13:11   was not the life that I wanted. And so I decided to can it and I feel good about that. So you

00:13:15   know, just something to keep in mind that you when you're developing things, make sure

00:13:19   you're doing it for good reasons and for reasons that you think it might be sustainable going

00:13:24   forward.

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00:15:02   for sponsoring this show. All right. So I also for the second topic for the second episode

00:15:09   the second sub episode inside of this episode I wanted to talk a little bit about communicating

00:15:14   changes to customers. And this is something that I ran into this last week as well where

00:15:21   I made a big change to the way that pedometer++ works in terms of the ability to migrate steps

00:15:28   from one app from one phone to another. So if you get a new phone you can move your old

00:15:31   history along with it even if you're not doing a backup and restore to that phone which is

00:15:36   a feature a lot of people have wanted for a while. And it's top of mind because I added

00:15:43   this feature that has been I have been asked periodically by customers for a long time

00:15:48   and then I continued to still get support requests asking people for it which clearly

00:15:54   is a an example of the fact that you know people don't really read the change notes

00:15:59   they don't read that what's new in the App Store most people probably honestly never

00:16:03   open the updates tab in the App Store. If you have automatic updates turned on the updates

00:16:08   will just you know kind of happen for you in the background and even if you do periodically

00:16:13   go there you know you may not have read the exact one associated with the most recent

00:16:18   change or with a particular change I guess. And so it's kind of a tricky thing because

00:16:23   in my mind I hadn't really thought about it when I did this update. I hadn't really thought

00:16:28   more in more detail about how best to communicate this change. But in retrospect I really should

00:16:35   have it's really is something that I should have talked about or thought about and tried

00:16:40   to find ways to communicate more directly to my users about this because you know if

00:16:47   it's a feature that they want I and it's in the app you know hopefully they can find it

00:16:52   because for every one person who is actually going to reach out to me and say hey you know

00:16:56   it'd be great if I could do this thing and there's probably going to be 10 people who

00:17:00   just assume it isn't there and leave the app frustrated and I definitely don't want that.

00:17:05   So first I guess the first lesson from this experience is to assume that nobody ever reads

00:17:11   the release notes. Some people will and that's great and I think it's important to write

00:17:15   good release notes to write release notes in such a way that they aren't just like you

00:17:21   know we are always striving to make our app better. This app this update includes stuff.

00:17:26   That's not really helpful. I don't find those kind of release notes particularly useful.

00:17:31   I understand why some bigger applications or typically these big faceless companies

00:17:36   will tend to do that but and I can understand why they do that but I find especially being

00:17:42   an independent developer it's a great opportunity to endear myself slightly to my users to write

00:17:48   good change notes and to make them personal like I try and actually write them as though

00:17:52   I'm writing a letter to my customer because if the customer is reading that that is functionally

00:17:56   what I'm doing. I'm directly communicating with them and so I want to take advantage

00:18:00   of that but I think I need to assume that nobody's ever going to read those and so think

00:18:06   about whenever I make changes to the application how to communicate that. The one extreme this

00:18:13   is something that I've never done myself and honestly I would not recommend but it's probably

00:18:16   worth mentioning is the approach of the like big pop up or banner or like the modal blocking

00:18:24   walkthrough or you can do the thing where like the first time you launch the app you

00:18:28   have like it's slightly grayed out with like call outs or arrows or you know bubbles like

00:18:33   you can really go on the one extreme very heavy handed with this and be like hey look

00:18:38   over here here's this cool new thing and the reason I tend to not like those is it assumes

00:18:46   that A that the user is going to be interested in whatever the new feature is you know that

00:18:50   they're going to want to go you know they want to interrupt whatever it is they're doing

00:18:55   even though in this case you're interrupting them and ostensibly for their benefit it's

00:18:59   still you're interrupting them you're still doing something that is not the reason they

00:19:03   open the app in the first place most likely and so it's you're kind of getting in their

00:19:08   way and it also is it kind of is awkward to manage in terms of which you know in practice

00:19:17   most applications have a lots of more lot many more new users than existing users like

00:19:25   over time your user base will grow which is wonderful hopefully but you know if there's

00:19:29   this this the retention rate of most applications is relatively low you know say 10% 20% and

00:19:35   so you're most of your people are being onboarded for the first time anyway and so you really

00:19:41   you should also make sure that it is optimized not just for communicating change but for

00:19:46   communicating in the first place that for helping a new user understand the application

00:19:50   and you can't you know it's not like if every time I make a change I added a new pop-up

00:19:55   or a new bubble or something to the application you know and you launch the app and it's like

00:19:59   here's 26 things you end up with you know these screens we often see them in like Mac

00:20:04   apps where it's like you know would you like the tip of the day and it's a kind of an in

00:20:08   elegant solution to this problem where you know if your app has gotten so complex or

00:20:13   detailed to the point that you know users are going to need a lots of help to find their

00:20:19   way around like that's tricky and problematic and I can it's understandable like I'm not

00:20:24   saying it's a bad thing in that situation but I try and avoid it if I can because it

00:20:29   much rather have an application that is intuitive and understandable without needing to result

00:20:34   resort to something like that.

00:20:36   So how to how to do it and as I was thinking about this and what am I going to be doing

00:20:42   going forward is the a great thing to do is to make careful tweaks to the copy to the

00:20:48   text of the application to help make these things clearer so in this case the way that

00:20:55   I implemented it is that you can now I've always in the app had the ability to export

00:21:00   your step data to a CSV file so you know you can export it for people some people like

00:21:05   to do it for you know use in Excel or numbers or something or they want to you know they

00:21:12   want to be able to have a an exchangeable format of their step data so great I've added

00:21:17   that I had that in the app for a very long time and with the export feature I included

00:21:23   the sort of the export transfer file in the same email that you get when you export the

00:21:28   CSV because that was very straightforward it was very simple to do there and intuitively

00:21:32   it made sense to me but I realize in retrospect there's no way for them to know that this

00:21:38   new thing is now there and so one little change I'm going to make is I'm going to tweak the

00:21:45   the copy of that section of the app so rather than saying export steps you'll now say export

00:21:49   slash transfer steps and it still keeps it simple it still isn't create this you know

00:21:54   I'm not like duplicating buttons and options in the application which could add more complexity

00:21:59   but I'm just adding a word and I think that word will do a long way to communicating that

00:22:06   this is possible and hopefully for new customers who find themselves in a situation where they

00:22:10   want to transfer their steps they'll now immediately know how to go there another thing that comes

00:22:15   to mind and this isn't applied in my particular situation but is that is important to always

00:22:20   think about what the default for a new option should be and be thoughtful about this because

00:22:26   that's often a great way for a customer to understand or to come across a new feature

00:22:31   so for example in my big update that I'm working on for sleep plus plus I'm adding a the concept

00:22:37   of a nightly sleep goal you know so say how many hours of sleep would you like to have

00:22:41   a night and there's a bunch of little cues within the application to try and make it

00:22:46   you know try and reward you or encourage you when you've done that and not like punish you

00:22:50   but to make it make you aware of the time of you know the times when you haven't been

00:22:53   able to do that and you start to think about well how am I going to communicate this new

00:22:59   feature well it's like hey it's important to have a thoughtful default that if I default

00:23:04   that to a number that is too high it's going to come across immediately in the negative

00:23:10   you know so if the first time you launch the app and it says you know essentially I'll

00:23:15   all the nights turn red because oh man you you know you haven't been hitting your sleep

00:23:19   goal recently but they haven't even set their sleep goal well that's kind of that's not

00:23:23   so great so instead I'm going to set the you know it's like I'm going to default the goal

00:23:27   to something on the lower side of what is still probably considered good so I think

00:23:31   I'm going to go for seven hours you know it's like in general most people say eight hours

00:23:35   is a good goal for sleep I'm going to start at seven and then hopefully for a lot of people

00:23:40   they'll have a lot of you know have this kind of nice mix of red and green steps you start

00:23:44   to be like or of red and green nights you look at it and be like oh this is great like

00:23:50   something's interesting is happening here maybe you go to settings and maybe you find

00:23:53   out that you can now set this goal but I'm kind of trying to do it in a way by using

00:23:58   the default such that it is intriguing rather than confounding hopefully that will help

00:24:04   and I think in just in general whenever you add a new feature it's you know it's something

00:24:09   that you have to keep in mind that you know you're probably going to need to choose an

00:24:13   option should you know should this feature be turned on by default or off by default

00:24:17   you know just the user needs to should they want should they have to actively take steps

00:24:22   to turn it on or should it just automatically be turned on and you just have to be really

00:24:27   thoughtful about this one thing that's also kind of awkward with this a lot of times I

00:24:30   find is it's deciding the right time to prompt for privacy options in iOS so as another example

00:24:39   in the sleep plus plus update there's automatic sleep tracking now which requires that you

00:24:44   give me your you know prompt you that you have to give me permission to access a variety

00:24:50   of other health database types and in general that you know is is fine but I don't want

00:24:57   to necessarily you know then that the first time you launch the app after you have installed

00:25:03   the updates to just immediately prop up this health dialogue out of nowhere saying hey

00:25:07   hey I need your health data like that's kind of creepy and not really great and so what

00:25:12   I'm expecting to do instead is pop up a message at the top of the app at the top of the main

00:25:19   table view saying hey the app can do sleep automatic sleep sleep tracking now would you

00:25:24   like to enable it and have a little switch there and if they hit the switch it'll pop

00:25:28   up the health permission prompt at that point and I think that's going to be a much more

00:25:34   comfortable thing that you know more people are going to want to actually give me access

00:25:38   to their health data in that way and I think overall that's probably going to be a more

00:25:44   successful way to communicate that than just popping up the health prompt and assuming

00:25:47   they want to turn it on because honestly most people do want to probably want to turn it

00:25:50   on but nevertheless if I prompt if I just pop it up right away initially like that might

00:25:56   be really confusing or it might not be a nice feeling that like all of a sudden they didn't

00:26:02   do nothing change from their perspective because the app just updated underneath of them and

00:26:06   then now all of a sudden I'm asking for their health data so that's just something I'm going

00:26:10   to do there but I think it's important to just be thinking about this process and to

00:26:13   think about how to make it useful for your use for your for your customers and to just

00:26:18   you know kind of allow you to get full credit in some ways for these changes that you're

00:26:23   making though I suppose no matter what you do here it's also probably just worth saying

00:26:28   I expect that people are still going to miss it and the people you're still going to get

00:26:31   customer support requests asking for features that are things that you missed and I'll leave

00:26:36   you with something that I think it was I think it was Gus Mueller the maker of Acorn was

00:26:42   talking about once when I was talking with him and he was saying how he I don't think

00:26:47   it was him he was talking about how he likes getting customer support requests for things

00:26:51   that are confusing because they're an opportunity to see where the problems are in your design

00:26:57   and to improve on them that if you can look at you know when someone misses something

00:27:03   as as a negative experience that like someone asking for a customer support is can be a

00:27:08   bad thing but on the flip side you know here's an opportunity to make the app clearer that

00:27:13   someone has told you hey here's this part of your application that was confusing or

00:27:16   problematic or difficult and so it gives you an opportunity to design a fix for it and

00:27:21   so have taken that perspective of like in this case you know communicating change is

00:27:26   an opportunity and if if you try and communicate that change and your customer doesn't get

00:27:31   it then you know that's a fault on yours to hopefully correct going forward all right

00:27:36   that's it for this this week like I said hopefully next week we'll be back to our normally scheduled

00:27:42   programming hopefully Marco will find his voice again and we can go back to our normal

00:27:46   thing but anyway other than that I hope you have a good week and I will talk to you later

00:27:50   bye

00:27:51   [BLANK_AUDIO]