Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Fanboi Effect

We've all seen some of the results. Reviews with amazingly slanted headlines, pointing out that iOS bests Android in some minor area, ignoring the rest. Cherrypicking data and comments. But no, I am not even talking about the obvious, visible effects. The problem is much more insidious and deep rooted.

Articles like this one insists The Data Doesn't Lie and discusses a recent analysis of Appstore/Play Store ratings and reviews to determine iOS has higher quality apps than Android.

For the hell of it: Ignoring Windows, Symbian and Blackberry makes the uTest guys look like iOS defenders, out to prove a specific point instead of doing a general survey. The math is not shown, so we can't do anything with it, including determine statistical relevance of the (small) margins. It's not clear the data was normalized to account for grade inflation or any other anomalous rank/review behavior, or the use of different words due to different features on each platform.

But let's say it's true. It might be. What causes that? Well, you do. And your friends who carry iPhones and design, develop or specify an iOS app first, or only. And even your decisions three years ago when you hired that vendor with the write-once tool, that insists your organization can design for iOS and they will port to other platforms.

Here's a quote that summarizes it for me from the comments:

problem is with us developers, who most of the time either directly port iOS apps or don't do unit test before pushing to Android Market.

Directly port iOS apps. I still, long into the global dominance of Android, and far after it's a critically important platform (if not clearly the dominant one) even in the US, see iOS developed first, and Android grudgingly ported over later. Often, with zero input from anything like a design team. Often with no oversight or really direct approval from the product owners.

When I say I see this, I mean at clients I work for, or slightly secondhand from clients others I know work for. Of course, it's pretty easy to observe when an app launches on iPhone, then six weeks later gets a half-assed Android version. Back to clients: I've seen the user tests. iOS design doesn't work on Android. (P.S. crappy hybrid that doesn't /quite/ look like iOS, doesn't even work on iPhones).

So, we've seen the problem with the UX of Android apps. And the problem is in many ways, us. The UX community. I don't even blame developers as much as us. I say it every time I give a presentation on this, and a lot of the time I write about any topic that covers multiple platforms. I'll say it again. Respect your users. Respect their choices. Do not assume they are being duped, they are cheap, they are stupid. The vast Clean-Design-Wing conspiracy to trample all platforms other than iOS has failed, and when you see that Android has 60% of the traffic (looking at a chart on the wall right now) then you have to believe it.

If you are sure that, say, iOS is the only important platform then absolutely build for that. But if you see the data or are otherwise required to make an Android app, or a Windows Phone app, or a Blackberry app, then make that. Design it, for real, like you mean it. Like what you say about users and their contexts is something you believe in. Not just lip service before you say "of course iPhone users are the best" in some probably quantifiable, but ultimately short-sighted, self-serving way.

One caveat: This is true in North America most of all. When I design for India or MENA or just globally, any client based or largely operating outside the US seems to be able to look at the stats, and I get tasked to design for S40 or Blackberry or Android first, and consider bada or Windows Phone for the future. Because that's what the stats say.

I should also say that I really, really try not to be a fan of any platform. My phone rings to an Android now, but because it's the most popular platform in the world. I have carried iOS, WebOS, Symbian, and probably more in the past few years. My briefcase pretty much always has a Nexus 7, an iPad 2, a Blackberry Curve, an iPhone 4, a Nokia C2, and a couple other Androids for keyboard and old OS compatibility. More devices are at home. I build to the platforms I am asked to build to, and if I had to pick a favorite platform I would say "SMS."

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