Two Lessons For App Makers From “Dots For iPhone”

I’m late to the game — the game being “Dots for iPhone.” I know. I finally had some time to get to it in my “test” iPhone folder. Obviously, it’s beautifully designed, fun, and everyone seems to like it — and rightfully so.

But, there are two other lesson inside Dots that consumer app makers may want to pay attention to. One is obvious and making a comeback, and the other one is subtle but powerful:

  1. In-app purchases are set up. Nothing so new here, but…In-app purchases only work when people are actually using your app. Some people forget that. Anyway, since this is an addictive, bit-sized game, the Dot-makers set up an economy around collecting and spending dots, as well as buying backs of dots to unlock more styles of game-play inside the app. Investors, even angel investors, are beginning to ask (again) about business models for apps, so building and showcasing the infrastructure from the start sends an important, subtle signal to them, as well as to the app users themselves. Having played Dots for the past three days, even though I’m bad at it, I now know I can unlock features now as I get more addicted to the game. // Another app that has done this well is MessageMe (see screenshot below), which shows a dialog box to initiate a message, which has eight (8) boxes, but at launch, a two of them were grayed out and left as placeholders, for stickers (which we know tweens buy like crazy) and the other for money. Well played!
  2. There is a timer. Each game in this initial version is 60 seconds long, counting down to the end, with sounds getting louder for the final 5 seconds. It’s sort of like Scramble with Friends. For consumer apps, many people are using them to kill time, really small segments of time. In a game, timers make sense, but why not use this game mechanic in other consumer or productivity apps? For instance, I use “Clear” for my to-do list, which offers a nice “swiping” feeling when I finish a task. Why not have a timer that every time I open Clear, I should be able to finish one task and swipe it away? With so many apps vying for limited consumer attention these days, designing an app to fit within a finite period of time could help consumers better shape a mental model of how and when they use an app.

Haywire is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2014 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus