Home > DigitalDay News > SXSW 2011 – App, Schmapp – Pointers for Moving from Web to App

SXSW 2011 – App, Schmapp – Pointers for Moving from Web to App


Aaron Forth, from mint.com, shared his experience taking his financial planner web application and building a successful app that people actually use. Mint.com has seen huge user adoption for their app for iPhone, Android (and soon to be iPad). According to Forth, right now 67% are using the iPhone app, and 33% are on Android – but this is growing. Total app downloads have grown 200% in just the last couple of months. One interesting point is that 20% of mint.com users actually only use the app and don’t even go to the site. Something, he argues, isn’t a bad thing.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

– Pick platforms carefully. You want to consider device adoption, how apps are available to the consumers, what support you can get when building apps for different platforms, and look for low fragmentation. Yes, one of your potential consumers may be surfing on Blackberry, but you’re going to open up a whole other can of worms for UI, development, QA, support, etc. that just may not be worth it.

– Make your app a companion for your website, not replacement. Think long and hard about what features the App is best suited for. How do people use those devices? Make “on the go” utility – don’t try to cram everything in the phone that the phone isn’t really meant for. Think quick overviews, easy on-the-go decisions and actions, and notifications that require the user to go back to your website to complete more complicated tasks.

– When approaching your app development, think what can you reuse from the existing site? (Answer should probably be, not much.) Then, think about what you’ll need to rethink.

  • Leverage things like branding, data (financial data from financial institutions in this case) and user profile information.
  • Things you need to rethink will most likely be:
  • UI & visual design (gesturing, one button controls)
  • Mobile security features – (mint.com allows you to go to the website and disconnect the mobile app connection in case you lose your phone, and thus important personal financial information.)
  • Skills/development resources you’ll need to code
  • Service layer & architecture (different APIs than using on the web – bursts data, instead of stream)
  • Authentification (encrypted cookie where it times how long you want it to remember your login before you have to login again, ~ 2 weeks – allows for some security, yet ease of use for consumer)
  • QA build & release

Bottom line is this: When thinking about an app, think about use cases and design from there. Gimmicky apps may not stand the test of time and copying your entire site functionality probably won’t suit the device. Consumers are simply looking for something that will make their lives easier. It’s your app’s job to deliver.

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