Android, "marketing" strategies and the difficult art of talking to people
After about one month from its appearance on the Android Market, blueBill Mobile experienced more than 150 downloads and a 50% of active installs. I'm using this project also to learn new things about the way to communicating to end users. In fact, from this point of view blueBill Mobile is very different from blueMarine (my other project targeted at end customers): people installing an open source application on their desktop, even if they are not computer professionals, are generally speaking more computer-oriented than people using a smartphone - a differentiation that will grow in future, looking at how Apple, that's leading the way in this field, is targetting its iPhone and iPad stuff (furthermore, blueMarine seems to interest specially the Linux guys, that are by selection more computer savvy than regular people).
blueBill Mobile is targeted at birdwatchers and making their lives easier. Thus, usability is a crucial point and I must be careful not to think too much "as an engineer".
Don't underestimate this point. As engineers, software and technology people we tend to consider us very smart and capable to solve problems. This is mostly true, but often our solutions work in our field, still they aren't the most natural ones for regular people. Take this personal short story: I've been a birdwatcher and photographer for years and I presumed I knew pretty well which the "user requirements" are; thus, I considered myself very capable to write down the specifications. For the initial version of blueBill Mobile, the JavaFX one, I mostly focused on technological aspects, deliberately not paying attention to usability (I planned to do that later, but in the end I suspended work on JavaFX as there were no more phones supporting it). With Android, instead, I re-wrote the thing from scratch, designing for usability since from the beginning. But when I first tried blueBill Mobile for Android on the field, I found myself screaming "Who's the moron that designed this?"! It was me, of course - but sitting at the desk and figuring out to be on the field is not as being on the field. Using the first version of the app required longer time than using a paper notepad - and cumbersome. I completely rewrote the user flow after that experience and I'm happy to be collecting feedback from users such as "feels really intuitive to use and should help me keep better records of what i see when wandering.". So don't underestimate the usability risks and overestimate yourself in understanding them.
So, are the download figures for the first month ok? Yes, but things are going very differently from what I expected. Summing up:
- I'm member of a local association of birdwatchers, which has got its mailing lists and forums. I planned for inviting fellows from this association to be my first beta testers, but so far I didn't get a single one. It seems that Android is not spread enough in Italy. Most of blueBill Mobile users seems to come from UK (see below).
- Having regular web visibility is a good starting point. blueBill was a good name, since googling for it brings a hit on my web site right from the front page. Still, it's not the way users can find you: they'd rather search for "birdwatching android" or such. In this case, my project just don't show up with Google (but a couple of forum threads about the topic appear - hint?). The curious thing is that Bing is more friendly: searching for the same keywords brings my project site right in the first result page. And Google is supposed to give specific spotlight for Android apps... I really can't understand Google many times. On the other side, searching for "birdwatching" from the Google Market itself brings blueBill Mobile as the unique result.
- So my trick has been to just post some references to the forum threads I cited before - I didn't spam anybody, the threads were about "Android applications for birdwatching" and my responses were in topic. Now, these are apparently UK-based forums, and this explains my initial user segment.
- But beware - the next generation mobile users will probably not browse the internet with a desktop or laptop; they will access it directly with their smartphone or tablet.
- In spite of 150 downloads, only 3 persons gave me a vote. I've been told that this is a normal figure. The only feedback I got is from the mentioned forums. I've set up a specific user's forum for blueBill Mobile, but my forum software is suffering from a database problem and it is often out of order. But I don't think a regular forum is properly experienced with a smartphone. I'm thinking of adding some specific screen for providing feedback to the application itself.
- I won't add that Google could provide me with a lot of more information, because they're collecting it from the store. Unfortunately, they are much worse than Apple in this respect, as the download and active users figures is the only thing that I know.