Sunday, 20 December 2009

What? Why? How?

Thought I'd post a quick link: This clever chap asked for an interview right in the middle of our Guardian iPhone app launch. Cheeky - but it worked - you can read it here.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The philosophy behind the Guardian iPhone app

Well - the Guardian iPhone app is now live and the result of months of hard work is being used by thousands of people around the globe.

How did we do? At the time of writing we're #1 'top grossing' app, #1 'paid app' & #1 'paid news' app (UK); #2 'paid news' app US (ahead of FOX but behind CNN); #1 'top grossing' app, #1 'paid app' & #1 'paid news' app in Ireland (we only released in those countries - for now). All that in less than 24hrs - which speaks volumes about the professionalism of everyone involved (and I had a brilliant team).

For a serious content app to overtake the more 'playful' entertainment apps in the paid chart ('pocket girlfriend' for one) possibly marks an important day for Apple itself. Perhaps the AppStore has finally grown up? Certainly this represents an interesting day for the traditional newspaper and media industries - our rivals are no doubt watching closely.

In any case, the response has been overwhelming (see Twitter for more) but here are a selection that stick in the mind:

- mozbloke #guardianapp is marvellously synergetic and a ruddy triumph. Others looking to augment their brand take note.
- "The #guardianapp is my app of 2009, after #qype of course! :) I have never been happier". /via @filchambers
- jonnynexus Things I love: my wife; my dog; my friends; vegan chocolate fudge cake; and the new Guardian iPhone app.
- SteveCoulson The new iPhone app from The Guardian is what the one for CNN and The NY Times should have been.
- ngscheurich The Guardian's brilliant iPhone app has officially set the bar for mobile news.

Responses like the above are why anyone involved in consumer technology gets up in the morning. That said, "the product process does not stop when a product is launched". This is an early lesson taught to burgeoning product managers. It's a simple but critical statement for anyone interested in creating successful, usable, digital products. And one that is often overlooked, or worse - ignored.

With that in mind (and if you haven't downloaded our new Guardian iPhone app and would like too - please do so), now is a prescient time to re-visit the product process that surrounded the app and to allow you to decide whether we managed to achieve our initial aims and objectives.

Every product launch represents an opportunity to refine processes. It also offers the huge benefit of allowing the team to consume real-time metrics and usage stats. But, even before that, it's good procedure to look back and re-visit the initital product principles put in place to help guide your decisions during the development process. An excerpt from one of the first documents I wrote regarding our app reads:

"The guardian iPhone application will provide a 'best in class' AppStore experience, offering the full range of content, galleries and podcasts. Core requirements include: high degree of personalisation, keyword search, offline reading, full Twitter integration, advanced picture galleries, full ability to share content (Twitter/SMS/Email), podcasts, save for later."

Hopefully you agree that we got very close to achieving all those aims. The exception of Twitter was a difficult but pragmatic decision, associated with helping us achieve a timely launch date (though I fully appreciate this is an element of functionality that will be warmly greeted by many when added).

Next, our product principles. For anyone who wants to create great, usable, feasible products - these are a great way of reminding yourself what matters - and help to cut through some of the many disussions development teams have around design and functionality alignment.

Our principles were logged as follows:

1. Simple is always best
2. Offer a full in-app experience
3. Develop well understood user journeys
4. Do not reinvent the wheel (maintain well understood iPhone UI)
5. Innovate to enhance the editorial experience

It would be churlish to comment on whether we have achieved the above - so I'll let you decide instead (please do leave your comments at the bottom of this article!).

The process we undertook was defined, in large, by the timescales. From opening business case to launch took around five months in total. While the app was developed by a great external dev team at 2ergo, the full feature spec, design and product process was very tightly controlled internally. I'm not a big believer in handing out entire projects for quick delivery to external teams without significant thought or internal development/design. That's no reflection on the team we chose, however. They were absolutely superb throughout.

No-one knows your audience and what they need better than you. Don't attempt to short-cut that. It strikes me that many people still don't understand the AppStore. You win or lose based on what your audience think of your product. There's no place to hide, so regardless of your commercial model and whether you choose to release paid for of free - you simply have to deliver on quality.

That was one of our key aims - and I think, given the reponses and rating we've achieved (4.5/5 after 200+ responses) we seem to have produced some level of success:

There's lots more to discuss - particulary around how we constructed the product, how to create a great launch plan, utilising social media in the product process (Martin Belam has written a great blog which touches on that) and some thoughts on the overall reaction. One of the key product designers John-Henry Barac - has penned his thoughts on contructing the app already and I enjoyed reading this comment:

"To me the content IS the USP: it’s the Guardian, with a huge amount of great content ... [and the app features simply] help you get more without leaving the page you’re on."

I'll end with a response from the wonderfully lucid and intelligent Chris Thorpe, who - while he works for the Guardian - had not spent any face-time with the app prior to it appearing on his phone this week:

"What fascinated me at the end of the experience was that I’d had print like experiences; luxurious, spending-time-with experiences with what had previously been online content."


Thursday, 10 December 2009

Selling 'mobile' to the chiefs

How do you sell mobile after years of overpromise and under-delivery? It's a great question and one that was discussed in depth today with some great mobile folks (if you're interested it was organised by these guys). And it was rather good...

The forum was under Chattam House rules, so I certainly won't go into too much detail about other attendees. But suffice to say there was a good mix of people representing companies who've been both early and late (with a fair few in the middle) to the medium of 'mobile'.

The last phrase in itself undergoes yearly re-definitions, and I don't intend to go into what 'mobile' is here.

The purpose of today's meeting was remarkably refreshing: the development of best practice guidelines around how best to pitch any mobile spend to your Board members. What follows are simply my views, and it's worth noting that this is definitely not an attempt to deliver a 'how best to pitch as a start-up to VCs' post. Instead, I'm concentrating solely on medium to large companies.

Ok Jon - so - how do you pitch mobile?

-Start with a realistic but ambitious long-term vision
We know mobile has overpromised and underdelivered. But you simply HAVE to start by selling the big story. Be an evangelist - because you're effectively pitching a start-up idea. We all know that the opportunities in mobile are significant over the long term. That 'longer-term' got significantly compacted when Apple released the iPhone and is closer every day. But it still may not be here yet. If you have to - talk 10 years ahead. Take geniune time to think and consider trends - and make your vision real. At this point they'll think they've heard it all before but what happens next will change their view - entirely.

-Use evidence-based decision making
Use good metrics, from varying suppliers, and give them a pragmatic vision of what the future could be over the long-term. Then tell them you're wrong, because you're absolutely bound to be wrong and the figures you've quoted are most certainly wrong. But explain that you've done you're research and this is the polar opposite of a 'me too' approach (grrrr - don't get me started). This is a vision that takes into account numerous trends and the long-term business objectives. And then tell them you're not asking for the earth - simply to try and test whether you're right or wrong.

-Don't overpromise

I've really covered this above. But DO NOT overpromise. The mobile landscape is littered with the corpses of people and companies who thought spending millions on mobile in 2001 was a great idea, because, you know, ITS THE NEXT BIG THING! Beware - keep expectations under control.

-Iterate slowly
Ask for a small sum of money to test your theory that a new market or revenue stream can be achieved. These days there is simply no excuse for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds or dollars before realising you're wrong. Ensure you explain - up front - that one of the benefits of mobile is the amazing way(s) you can now understand user engagement (or lack of it). Tell them what metrics you're testing and explain what the objectives are. And admit that you don't know if you're going to succeed or fail. But you will give it everything you've got and - good or bad - come back and present the findings.

-The 'experts' don't have a clue
One of the continuing issues I have with the tech industry are the plethora of 'experts' only too willing to sell 'the next big thing'. Ignore them - most are really selling their own consultancies and many will know less than you. Beware of sleek presentation and the 'award-winning, book-writing, evangelistic presenter' selling you a vision. (Does he own another consultancy perchance? Is he selling ads on his blog?). Instead, listen to people who have delivered real value or who have great experience of delivering innovation that's resulted in something (be it success or failure). In tough economic times you HAVE to marry ambition with pragmatism (unless you're a start-up when the 'start-small, think big and move quickly' theory obviously looks smarter than ever).

-Invest wisely to prove a market exists
I've covered this - but I'll say it again anway - DO NOT ask for the earth. Chances are you won't get it anyway. And if you do and don't succeed (and there's every chance you won't) you'll never be able to go hunting for seed money again!

- Don't get caught in the 'web v's app' debate
Do both - you need a strong portfolio. Not all of it will work. But some of it might. If you've followed the 'invest wisely' path then you won't be going back to your board having lost millions of dollars. And you'll be telling them that you haven't a clue whether the browser or 'app' will win - so you're going to invest wisely in both (if that's right for you) and do everything you can through free marketing channels and social media to increase the profile of what you've created.