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."



hayjane said...

Aww, c'mon, you could've linked to punlimited...! ;)

Anonymous said...

SO did you just copy the LeMonde app or have a spy sent over to steal teh XCode?

Humberto said...

This is awesome!