The 5-Year App

Today 5 years ago I launched an app called DidThis. I built it with a couple of friends. It was a work of love & passion. We were trying to help people live healthier lives with technology.  We encouraged people to publicly post their health success stories. I poured two years of my life into that app.

We launched it, it didn’t take off, we shut it down. Life went on with all its ups & downs. But a thought kept lingering in my mind: 

“We sure were onto something.”

I kept tinkering in my free time. I talked to people. Built prototypes. I kept saying to myself: “There’s got to be a better way to help people form healthy habits.” 

So I kept searching. Stumbling really. Trying different things. Different technologies: websites, email, apps, wearables. Different ways of motivating people: sticks & carrots, accountability. Nothing stuck. Then something changed. I met someone.

That someone made me realise Karl friggin’ Marx was right about this one thing:

“Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.” - Karl Marx

It’s pretty simple. People matter. Especially when you’re trying to form healthy new habits. People who inspire you. People who keep you accountable. People who’ll kick your ass for being lazy. People who forgive when you need to be forgiven.

It’s simple: “To build healthy habits, first surround yourself with good people.” And I’m building an app for that. It’s called FitChat. And it took me 5 years to build.


At WWDC this year Apple continued their trend of offering more app frameworks & integrations points. Apple now offers the full App Store experience for Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, Apple Maps, Apple Messages & Safari Extension Apps. And then I'm skipping custom keyboards, ad blockers, today widgets. Those were last year's news.

What does this mean for developers & product designers? More separate app experiences to create, test & distribute. More complexity. More app targets in your Xcode workspace. More things that can go wrong. App development just got a whole lot more expensive.

It's no longer enough to "just" build an iOS app. You need a Watch extension, rich notification support, a today extension, etc ... There's only ONE way to deal with this complexity: iterative development.

Start with the core of your app in iOS. Release that to (Testflight) user. See how users respond to it & only THEN build out the extensions like Apple Watch etc ... Setting out to build everything at once is the best way to make sure you will never release your project. Babysteps.





Apple Watch for Normal People. Lesson 1: Double Down on your Affordances

I gave an Apple Watch to my friend Sharon & asked her to test it out for a few days. She owns a small business in the children's fashion industry & makes a great "Apple Watch Tester" because while she uses mobile technology intensively, she's not a tech fan. She also has a good eye for trends & fasion. 

Lesson 1: Double down on your affordances

Don't assume people will discover your app's functionalities or even be curious about what it does. Normal people are barely curious about what the watch does, let alone your app! I gave Sharon the watch & told her to keep it a few days to play with it & discover the functionalities. Like most "normal people" she's pretty busy living her life & really doesn't want to interrupt it to explore technology for technology's sake. So:

  • Don't assume people will discover your "Force Touch" menu.
  • Don't assume people will know to tap your app icon in a notification to open it.
  • Don't assume people will open your iPhone app BEFORE opening the watch app.
  • Handle notification actions correctly: don't just open your app, make it respect the context of the intended action.
  • Don't assume people will use dictation for replies. Talking into your watch is very very awkward still.
  • Don't assume people will figure out how to add your app's Glance
  • Especially don't assume people will actively navigate to your app using the honeycomb screen.
  • A user can perfectly feel like they undertand a device yet have no clue what they are doing.

Part of what makes Apple Watch so hard to discover naturally is that the average interaction pattern is measured in seconds. One of the ways I try to make my app more discoverable is by using notifications heavily & each time introduce a single concept of the app in just a few seconds.

Good to be back

Exactly one year ago I started an experiment of sorts. I dropped out of all social networks, cold-turkey style: I DELETED my Facebook & Twitter accounts, no recovery possible. I stopped blogging. I kinda disappeared into thin air. At first it was scary, then it became interesting and finally it ended up spurring a big bout of creativity with a new software product & quite a bit of writing I'm getting to reveal now.

One year. No social media. Because I didn't feel like I had anything to tell. Now I DO again. So I'm back. As "@MacbookJockey" on all the networks.