Observed

What’s been your Covid deep-dive?

I normally skip around between different hobbies, getting in and getting out. I started a newsletter at the beginning of lockdown, something that I wanted to do for a very long time, where I talk about news in the app business. It’s called This Week in Apps. It’s been mostly trends and things that an app developer, app maker, marketer, or someone in the industry would find interesting.

I’ve been doing it for a year, and we might actually turn it into a podcast. I’ve learned a lot about audio and audio engineering, and it would be a great project. I see these as hobbies because writing is fun and audio is fun. Very time-consuming, but fun.

You do not shy away from taking on new things.

Definitely. I recently got into espresso-making, which is a whole scientific world in and of itself. You change the temperature a tiny bit, bring in a slightly different kind of bean, and you get a totally different coffee. 

I got the entry-level barista-type machine. It doesn’t have all the little knobs, but it isn’t what they call in the business “appliance,” which is the thing for regular coffee drinkers. You’re supposed to spend half of what you spent on your coffee machine for your grinder. I didn’t do that either because that’s insane. But I’ve spoken to people who swear by it. It took a few minutes of really terrible coffee every morning until I dialed it in and figured out how to do it. 

Also, I got into leatherworking. I designed a little case for my AirPods. I designed a wallet that works incredibly well. I don’t know how that happened. Magic. I went a little crazy and got too many tools, but I’ll find a use for them. Anything that has to do with making things, I enjoy, so I will try all of them.

If you were to give advice to somebody who wants to create an app, no matter what that app is, what would you say?

Before you spend a dollar on actual development, know what you’re up against.

Appfigures has a tool called keyword inspector. You put in a keyword and it searches the app store for you and gives you all the results and info like estimated downloads, ratings, demographics … stuff like that. I go in there to see who’s currently ranking, what they are doing, the features they offer, and the experience are they providing.

Even that level of cursory research can help you. App makers have to realize that whatever the offering is, time and money will need to go towards building the bare minimum of what’s already out there, plus more time and money to build out features that will differentiate it.

Take something like Robinhood. Prior to that, if you had a trading app such as ETrade or Ameritrade, a simple user experience was okay because they didn’t really have that much competition. Then Robinhood came out and everything is beautiful and sleek and well-designed.

Some people are leaving now Robinhood because of what happened and going to something like Fidelity. They’re saying, “Wow, this experience feels like 1998.” They’re willing to take the hit because they feel Robinhood did them wrong, but if that didn’t happen there will be no way an app like Fidelity could actually beat Robinhood on the app store. 

So, start with knowing what you’re getting into before you spend any money on design and development. Then if you want to cut corners, figure out how to cut corners within those guidelines. At least you know what you’re up against.

Financial trading apps are having a moment. What will happen in that world over the next year or so?

When Robinhood came out, I was all for it. Simplifying the stock market made a lot of sense to me. You can see that someone who cares about product made Robinhood. 

When GameStop happened, it just goes to show that when people are given the ability to just press a button and get something done, they will, even though the process is complicated and their money is on the line. 

There should be more regulation of trading apps, not to the point where it’s benefiting certain companies, but to the point where it’s at least requiring you to educate yourself before you actually use them.

I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but we’re heading to a point where you can’t just take someone off the street and say, “Hey, here, invest all of your hard-earned money or your life savings.” Some additional step is needed, either as a requirement or an incentivized way to educate the user. If trading apps can do that well, I think it will be extremely powerful. If they can’t, I think it’ll be problematic.

Who’s your guitar inspiration?

Oh, a mix between Jimi Hendrix and Slash, somewhere between the two of them. They speak with their guitars. It’s beautiful.

My dad was in a band when he was young, so we always grew up with guitars in the house. When I first wanted to play guitar, I played Sweet Child O’ Mine constantly.

These days I listen to somewhere between old rock music and progressive trance, so somewhere between there. I love progressive trance. It’s amazing music. Not many people do. But the ones that do, I think they’re right.

Give us a secret trend coming to mobile in 2021.

An easy one would be ASO (app store optimization) for games. Games are traditionally not really optimized for that sort of discovery. 

Most game developers give their game a name, put it on the App Store and Google Play, done. It’s going to be more difficult to get visibility by only doing that. 

Asking questions like, “What do my users want? What are they looking for?” ahead of time is going to play a much bigger part in game development. That ties into what I said before about planning before building. 

Putting something out on the store that speaks directly to your potential users, backed up by research versus gut feeling, isn’t exactly a secret. But that’s a trend more and more people will be paying attention to.