I’ve been using SmartPhones since the Treo came out, and the current generation of SmartPhones has introduced applications that become absolutely integral to the way I do things – cook, travel, navigate, go out to eat, go to the movies, exercise; as Apple says, “There’s an app for that.”
Why is it that these apps are so compelling? Why do iPhone users download 40 apps on average? Outside of pure entertainment apps, I believe the key reason is that these applications inherently generate high-value insights. Yes, they collect some interesting data. They can use the GPS to map your run, take in telemetry data from a heart-rate monitor and a chip in your shoe, connect that to an app that tracks your calorie intake, and connect that up with weight and body composition from your internet connected scale. (Big data, anyone? And yes, you caught me at New Year’s resolution time.)
But if all they did was to take in that data, who cares?
These apps are so compelling because their interface is actually less about data entry or data processing, and almost entirely about gaining insight from the data. Yes, they are beautiful from a design perspective, but what is so attractive is that the app is almost entirely business intelligence style output telling me what to do to achieve an outcome. I can glean such things as average running pace over my last several runs, how well I slept over the last week, how many calories I am under or over my target, or how many I need to burn to reach my target weight. And this is just the beginning.
Many of these applications connect with other applications in a way that adds significant value to it. When I book a trip in my business expense system, I’m lucky to get a receipt. When I book a trip personally, that flows into Gmail where TripIt finds it, creates an itinerary for me, notifies my wife, my friends, and my business network of the trip, suggest to me hotels, restaurants, and social connection I might make in town, helps me manage the trip in real time with status notifications, access to reservations, and alternatives when flights are cancelled. After the trip, it has tracked all the costs for me and allows me to see where I’ve traveled and how many miles I’ve traveled.
Most business applications I work with barely do a good job of supporting the mechanics of the process they purport to “make more efficient.” But I need more. I need to make decisions about that process. I need to know if there is something better I could be doing. Can I get a cheaper flight? Is there a customer I should meet with while I’m in town? Is the expense report my employee just submitted in line with what other employees are submitting for similar activities? I get these types of answers from my iPhone apps, why not from my business apps?
The fact is, these apps are so sticky because they realize the goal of every information system ever conceived. They realize the goal of business intelligence. They not only support me in executing those processes in the moment, but they help me learn from my own experience, take advantage of knowledge that exists in the form of best-practices or related information, and they do it in a way that is intuitive to understand and creates significant value for me.
Do the business apps you provide measure up? Or are you getting shown up by Lose It! TripIt, Amazon Remembers, and other apps that cost less than $10? I wonder how long the business user will put up with this.