Getting Feedback on SmarterContacts before Releasing

December 1, 2011 by
Filed under: iOS 

One of the main points in the “Lean Startup” line of thinking is to get feedback from “real” users as soon as possible and to use that feedback to improve your product before going to market. Before releasing my next iPhone app, I tried to follow this advice, talked to a few potential users and – based on their feedback – made a couple of changes to the app. This post discusses these suggestions and how I managed to incorporate them into the app.

App before showing it to users

My next app – called SmarterContacts – analyzes your iPhone address book and figures out if there are duplicate entries for the same person. (In keeping with the idea of a “minimum viable product”, all that will be in the first version is the analysis part, merging records will be in a future release.) Before showing it to users, it consisted of two screens, a list and a detail view.

List View

The list view is shown when the app starts. It starts to analyze your address book (showing a progress bar while the analysis is going on) and then shows all your entries:

ListViewProgress

For each entry, a “duplicate probability” is calculated by comparing it to all other contacts and looking for how closely they match. That probability is the number shown after the name of the contacts. The probability is also converted into a cell color, so you can quickly spot those entries that are probably a duplicate.

Screenshot_13

 

Detail View

When you tap one of the entries in the list view, you get some more information on the particular contact:

Screenshot_11

This view shows one contact, the contacts that are very close to it (duplicate probability of 99% or more) and the next three closest contacts (even if they are “green”, i.e. probably not a duplicate).

Feedback

I showed this version of the app to a couple of friends and colleagues. When I was at an Apple developer event (the iOS5 Tech Talk Tour in Berlin), I also took the chance to review the interface with an Apple engineer. With each person, I spent from a couple of minutes on the phone to about an hour discussing the app, its functionality and some potential changes.

Here are the main points I took away from these discussions:

  1. The colors are pretty intuitive (red – needs work, green – okay), but users still asked for more details
  2. After the analysis, you end up in the list view – there is no easy way to get an overview of how many total records, how many exact matches etc.
  3. The ‘duplicate probability’ is too technical for the typical user – everyone asked me “what does this number mean”.
  4. Some testers suggested that the list shouldn’t show the “green contacts” (i.e. probably not a duplicate) at all.
  5. The picture was clearer in the Detail View, showing two different groups of potential duplicates wasn’t useful and showing “green” contacts was just confusing to some.

Although I tried to focus these sessions on the user interface and the “flow” of the app, I also got a ton of feature ideas that I can include in future versions of the app.

Changes

Based on these suggestions, I implemented a number of changes before submitting it to Apple.

Adding an InfoScreen

In order to give some more information to the users (such as explaining what the different colors mean) I’ve added an InfoScreen with a description of the app and its features. The easiest way to do this was to add a UIWebView that displays some local HTML-file that contains the information and also some hepful links to my website and an easy way to send an email.

While this was providing the information that people were asking for (what do the colors mean, what do “the numbers” mean), I was not completely satisfied with it – it answered questions, but users have to look for the information. It would be better either not to raise questions or to answer them without requiring the user to hunt around for some extra info.

Adding a StartScreen

The biggest change (and the one that required the most work) was a new startscreen. Different elements were suggested by various people, but it took quite a few discussions before all the pieces came together.

When you start the app, the startscreen shows the progress of the analysis with a growing bar chart that is segmented according to the results so far:

Screenshot_23

Once the analysis is done, the bar chart is completely filled. Everyone loved the animation showing the progress of the analysis, and the screen also answers “the color question” the first time the colors are used to display the number of contacts in each category.

Changes in the ListView

In the list view, I just did a few small changes which addressed a lot of the feedback items:

  1. No longer display the “duplicate probability” It is still calculated internally and used to decide on which color to use, but the specific number is not that relevant to the user. After all, people will not make different decisions based on subtle differences in the probability. This totally avoids “the numbers question”.
  2. Change the default of the filter control to “wide” instead of “all” By doing this, the “green” contacts are not displayed by default. However, if the user is interested in them, they can still get to them using the filter control. Of course, you can also get to the info screen using the “i” button in the navigation bar at the top.

Changes in the Detail Screen

I also “cleaned” up the detail screen by just showing one group of potential matches and dropping the “green contacts” from the potential matches:

Screenshot_22

Conclusion

When I started my test, my expectation was that I would get feedback with regards to the comparison function working properly (i.e. these two contacts aren’t really similar at all or these two should be similar). I got a few suggestions on this level, but I was pleasantly surprised that I got a lot of ideas on “the substance” of the app. There were a couple of great discussions on how to do things better resulting in quite a few changes to the app. The core of the app hardly changed, but the way the functionality is presented to the user was vastly improved.

I’m hoping that these changes are also going to increase sales of the app on the App Store. I’ve submitted the app to Apple at the end of last week, so it should be available by early December.

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