Developing my own product – Creating a Minimum Viable Product

Now that my efforts to develop the HipHopListings iOS app myself had not provided me with the desired results, I decided to seek help. I got as far as creating a basic app version of my existing HipHopListings (‘HHL’) blog and installing it onto my phone. However, it became pretty clear very quickly that Apple weren’t going to accept my app or that “AppMaker”, the 3rd party tool I was using, were going to submit the app for me. Alex, an experienced end-to-end developer, was happy to help me with developing the app in return for a modest fee. One of the first questions that he asked me however was whether I could provide me him with a short brief of what to build.

At this stage, I had thought about my product vision, assessed the opportunity, created wireframes and even started developing the app myself. What I hadn’t done, however, was define the minimum functionality which needed to be included in the app. I thought I had a reasonably good idea of my target users and their problems that I was looking to solve through the app. Also, I felt I now had a better steer on the criteria Apple use to approve an app into their App Store. I just needed to translate this is into some well-defined features and requirements that Alex could work against.

The challenge was to rein myself in whilst I was outlining the product requirements. I could easily see myself falling in the trap of overdesignining this app, now that I had an experienced developer to help me. I therefore used Tristan Kromer’s version of a mix of the “Lean Product Canvas” (by Ash Amaurya) and the “Business Model Canvas” (by Alex Osterwalder) as a technique to try to keep my requirements as ‘lean’ and ‘minimal’ as possible. This is how I broke it down:

  1. Customer needs and goals (problems) (1) – The key user problems I was looking to address through my HHL app were twofold: (1) how do I find out about upcoming Hip Hop shows in my area? and (2) how do I find out about upcoming Hip Hop releases. Both seemed like fair assumptions to make as I’ve received lot of a feedback on these problems from having done HHL over the past 4 years.  
  2. Customer needs and goals (requirements) (2) – In my brief to Alex the developer I translated the user problems mentioned under 1. in the simplest way possible: (1) enable users to easily view upcoming shows and go to a 3rd party ticketing site (see Fig. 1 below) and (2) enable users to filter listings by area and by date (see Fig. 2 below). I also asked Alex to set up Google Analytics so that I could track users’ actual behaviour and validate some of my assumptions.
  3. Keep it simple – I decided to keep the design of the app as simple as possible at this stage. Let’s get the app approved by Apple first (which can be a real pain in itself), get people to use the app and comment the functionality. Once I’ve established that users actually do find the app of value in terms of finding out about gigs and releases, I can them improve the functionality further and worry more about the user interface / visual design. In his “Lean Product Canvas” Tristan Kromer refers to this approach as ‘trimming the fat’.
  4. Customer needs and problems (3)  Based on previous feedback, I thought it would be good to add a very basic ‘discovery’ element to the app; a very simple ‘Featured’ screen which users can turn to for curated shows and releases which I’d chosen to highlight (see Fig. 3 below). I reckoned this feature would be relatively easy to get feedback on. Firstly, through tools Google Analytics and Flurry I would be able to monitor the number of views of this screen. Secondly, I felt this would be the kind of feature which would be easy to get qualitative user feedback on. I could use both feedback methods to validate one of my assumptions: making it as easy as possible for users to discover new shows and releases will be a powerful proposition for HHL’s (target) users.   
  5. Constraints to consider – One of my personal goals was to learn more about designing for mobile. And learning I did. My original design went largely out of the window as soon as I realised from testing that Facebook’s more traditional split screen view (see Fig. 4 below) would probably be easier to implement and for users to interact with. After all, all I wanted is a clean and simple interface, no frills, and it looked my original designs were probably a bit too elaborate compared to some of the simple user interfaces that are working well (with Facebook, Hailo and Vine as good examples). Also, I realised that I had to update the app’s content manually via a back-end which had to be kept as simple and intuitive as possible. I spent a good chunk of my time think about the user flow involved in uploading, updating and removing the app’s content.

Main learning point: actually putting down my functional and non-functional requirements down was both scary and exciting at the same time. Scary, because I really had to rein myself in and be realistic about technical and financial constraints. Exciting because I could apply some of my ‘lean’ lessons learned to my own app and think about the key value I could provide my (target) users with in the first iteration of my HipHopListings app. If anything, it was great to go from creating my original vision to submitting my app with Apple within a month. As scary and challenging as it felt at times, I felt I had created something tangible that I could launch, validate, learn from and build on!

Fig. 1 – My design for a “Shows” to enable users to easily find out about upcoming shows and go to ticket sites

Fig. 2 – My design for a simple filtering functionality, enabling users to only look at shows in their area or by date

0421'13 Draft Show Filtering V1

Fig. 3 – My design for a simple ‘Featured’ screen which highlights pre-picked shows and releases

0420'13 Draft main app screen (featured)

Fig. 4 – Facebook’s split view mobile app design

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Apple’s iPad and its “price umbrella”

Hearing Charles Arthur, Technology Editor with The Guardian, talk about a “price umbrella” intrigued me. He mentioned these two words in relation to the launch of the iPad Mini and I wondered how a price umbrella works. This is what I’ve since learnt:

  1. Price umbrella – This term refers to the pricing effect typically created by a market leader. As long as competitors set their price for a similar product within the ‘umbrella’, i.e. at or below the price set by the market leader, they will be able to compete within a specific market space. In other words, by setting high prices, a company can leave room for competitors to come in and compete at a lower price point.
  2. How to avoid a price umbrellaRyan Jones has done a really helpful analysis of 3 common steps involved in avoiding the creation of a price umbrella: (1) create a new, cheaper product line (2) keep selling old hardware and (3) get someone else to subsidise the product. Offering different versions of the same product is probably the most obvious way of eliminating or at least lowering the price umbrella.
  3. Apple’s iPad Mini and the price umbrella – In his blog post, Ryan Jones has visualised Apple’s approach to avoiding a pricing umbrella very neatly (see Fig. 1 below). This graph illustrates perfectly how different versions of Apple’s devices (at different price points and with slight variations in product specification) help in lowering the price point, making it much harder for competitors to enter the market. However, with the iPad Mini currently priced at £269, there’s enough room for similar tablets to compete in the market; enter Google’s Nexus 7, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch, Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite and others.

Main learning point: I now know what a price umbrella is and how companies can leave precious market space for competitors to enter if they’re not careful. Even a dominant force like Apple is not exonerated from this pricing effect as is currently demonstrated by its iPad Mini. However, companies like Apple have become extremely good at continuously innovating and introducing new product versions at lower price points.

Fig. 1 – Apple’s Price Points for the iPhone, iPod and iPod (taken from

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iCloud: what’s all the hype about?

This week saw Apple launching its iCloud music streaming and online data storage service. It will enable users to instantly access any song purchased on iTunes on any device. Anything downloaded from the iTunes Store will be made available on all your Apple devices for free.

In addition, for $25 a year, iTunes Match will take every song from your iTunes library – including those songs ripped from your CD collection or downloaded ‘elsewhere’ – and store them on Apple servers in the cloud.

Users will thus be able to download any of their (up to 20,000) tracks stored in the cloud onto their iPad/iPhone/Mac/PC without spending hours transferring the music across.

Since the official introduction of iCloud at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) earlier this week there has been a quite of hype about it. But what is it all about, what makes iCloud different from any of the other cloud based services?

  1. It’s Apple! – By default, every WWDC is looked at with much anticipation, by developers and users alike. However, Apple cynics see iCloud as yet another way to tie customers further into the Apple eco-system.
  2. It includes non-iTunes purchased songs – iTunes Match will enable users to store any songs ripped from their CDs or downloaded/purchased elsewhere.
  3. It has two advantages over its main competitors – Unlike iCloud’s competition – Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Google’s Music Beta – Apple seems to have agreements in place with most of the major music labels and publishers. More importantly, Apple has the complimentary hardware that the likes of Amazon, Google or Dropbox don’t have. If you already own a Mac or an iPhone it does make a lot of sense to use iCloud and to sign up for iTunes Match.

Main learning point: I now have a better understanding of what all the hype has been about. Apple has launched a free cloud-based storage service that promises user friendliness and the end of worrying about licensing and digital rights. However, for iCloud to fullfil its promise I believe it all comes down to uptake and web access: “will users buy (into) iTunes Match?” and “will iCloud eventually become accessible via the web (and not just via Apple devices)?” It will be interesting to see whether (a) Apple customers are willing to move their music libraries to the cloud as well as pay for iTunes Match and (b) whether Apple will launch iCloud web apps in the near future.

Related links for further learning:

How the iPad has overtaken the DVD player

Now that’s news! Today I learned that Apple’s iPad is poised to have the quickest adoption rate of any electronic device ever. What does this mean? Recent research shows that the iPad sold 3 million units in the first 80 days after its release in April, with a current sales rate estimated at 4.5 million units per quarter. This means that the iPad has surpassed the DVD-player as the quickest adopted electronic device ever. Just for the sake of comparison: the DVD-player only sold 350,000 units in its first year …

These extraordinary figures made me wonder about the reasons behind the iPad’s success. I don’t (yet) own an iPad myself so I have to rely on my limited experiences with the device and opinions from others. Clearly, the sales figures don’t lie, but there still seem to be 2 camps, let’s call them “advocates” and “skeptics”, who each have their own opinions about Apple’s latest success story.

Why the iPad will conquer the world? – 3 common arguments by the advocates:

  1. It’s Apple! – From the introduction of the iPhone, Apple definitely has got its users locked in tightly into its designated apps and services (the ‘Apple ecosystem’).
  2. It’s user friendly – Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, the user experience on the iPad and other Apple devices is easy and consistent.
  3. It’s got the “first-mover advantage” – Apple was the first to bring touch-screen technology to a mobile device and it hasn’t looked back since.

Why the iPad won’t conquer the world? – 3 common arguments by the skeptics:

  1. Look at its limitations! – An often heard criticism is that the iPad is only good for entertainment purposes; you’re stuck if you want to do anything beyond email or simple word processing.
  2. The competition is catching up rapidly – Tablets by the likes of Cisco, Samsung and BlackBerry are catching up rapidly, concentrating on some of the functions the iPad is currently lacking (e.g. camera, expendable memory and built-in phone).
  3. Android will become the standard – As an operating system Google’s Android is more versatile and will be implemented across a wide range of tablet devices. Android will thus become the default operating system for tablets.

Main learning point: the iPad has done phenomenally well in the first 7 months of its existence. It will be interesting to see how the iPad will continue to perform and if any of its competitors will be able to catch up. Also, will some of the “skeptics” turn out to be right in their prediction that Android will become the default tablet operating system? It all remains to be seen, watch this space!

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