by Dr. Christelle Scharff and Chun Hei Cheung
At MobileSenegal, we’ve been reviewing quite a few apps over the years – from many developers, and on different topics and platforms. We mentored developers after the 2011-2012 MobileSenegal competition and had the pleasure, after 3 years of sustained work, to see 5 Senegalese apps released in the Nokia Store (4) and Google Play (1). We often observed things that developers have overlooked and their apps could be tremendously improved if they would do basic preparation and planning (even before they write one line of code!) and understand UI/UX and quality assurance practices and techniques.
In continuing our efforts to promote the development of quality mobile apps in Senegal, we decided to launch an App Clinic. We recruited teams of Android developers motivated in improving their apps over the next 6 weeks and proposed them to follow a set a well-defined activities that should permit them to have an advanced prototype or a finalized app at the end of the program. The App Clinic is not about business models, monetization, and the like. We are going back to the basics and we will focus on the product – the app – and its quality.
The first session of the App Clinic took place on Thursday June 13rd at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD). Each team did a demo of its app on an emulator or on a real phone. The facilitators of the App Clinic provided personalized feedback and the participants were asked to provide reports of this feedback and commit to 3 specific changes they want to implement in their next version.
Here is a set of advice we gathered from the first session of the App Clinic.
- Who are the users of your app?
Developing an app is like making a big budget Hollywood movie: do you know your audience? You should sit down and think who your potential users are and try to see your app from their point of view.
When developing an app, try to have a structured process in place. If you do not have requirements and design, there will be problems eventually.
We bet that you heard and read about this many times and you are tired of hearing this all time, but we are also tired of seeing apps that could have easily been improved from simple planning. Even just designing the user interface with ugly drawings or short sentences describing basic features scattered on a piece of paper that only you can understand can be a good start. In terms of process, we recommend Agile as mobile apps implements specific set of functionalities, are developed in small teams, and rely on a fierce time to market strategy.
- Follow the platform standards.
Generally, for many mobile platforms, there are already standards in place, i.e. styles, patterns, colors, and user interface. It pays to consult these documents and follow the standards, because they have been refined and already thought out. It will also save you a lot of work from inventing new stuff that people might not like or, in the app store submission process, be the cause of rejection!
For general Android design principles, styles, colors, etc., go to Android Design on the official Android Developers website. For navigation patters, there is Android Patterns.
- KISS (Keep it simple and stupid)
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best and overthinking or adding too many unnecessary features might actually make the app worse. It is not about achieving a technical feat but making an app that answers a special need. It is also important to be able to describe the app in one sentence of 140 characters (if you see what we mean!).
- If you need content, you have to make an effort to create this. Don’t assume that it’s less important than the actual app.
Some apps rely heavily on local content. Gathering local content – for examples, the locations and addresses of hospitals and bus stops and information about diseases – takes time and effort. If the core of your app is about content, you have no choice! You can sometimes concentrate on a particular city or region to begin with and then integrate more cities in the next versions. We are looking forward to apps with quality content!
- Stay legal!
Images have to be chosen carefully. Don’t use any random photo that you’ve found on the internet because it might be copyrighted. You don’t want to get letters from lawyers! There are many free art and images available on sites such as openclipart, Wikipedia Commons, or Flickr. While editing images, be careful to keep them in the correct ratio so the images won’t get distorted.
- Test your app! But how should this be done…?
You know that your app is the best in the world…until people tell you that it stinks and you go back home crying that you have been misunderstood. Don’t be that guy! You should test your app, preferably with people that are not involved in the project who can see it more objectively. Though you can test your app on emulators, testing on physical hardware is always better and you should test it on as many different devices as possible to see how it behaves on different hardware. If you don’t have access to physical devices, some manufacturers provide remote access to real devices over the web. For example, Samsung provides a remote test lab for developers. Nokia also has a remote lab for Series 40 and Windows 8 phones.
We hope that participants of the App Clinic will integrate some of this feedback and advice and are looking forward to the next version of their apps. We will engage the whole mobile community in Senegal to participate in the beta testing of their apps. We are looking forward to the before / after photos of their apps! The results of the App Clinic will be presented at the next Mobile Innovations Dakar.
The facilitators of the App Clinic are:
Dr. Christelle Scharff, Doctor in Computer Science converted to a mobile app doctor!
Chun Hei Cheung, professional tester (HBO, uTest, AMA…). He tested most of the apps of MobileSenegal and is looking forward to seeing better quality apps!
Aude Guyot, UI/UX designer looking for African talents through the Carrefour des Possibles Afrique
MobileSenegal is the first initiative to build capacity in mobile technology in a Francophone country in Africa. It was founded in 2008 and evolves in collaboration with partners across Senegal and beyond. MobileSenegal organizes bootcamps, competitions, training for faculty and professionals, and carry out pilots on the ground. To date, more than 350 participants completed boot camps and more than 30 applications were developed (some of these apps are in the Nokia Store and Google Play). Apps developed during bootcamps were finalists or winners at competitions (e.g., Nokia Calling All Innovators Competition in 2009, GSMA Mobile Health Students’ Competition in 2012). One of the innovative aspects of this initiative is that every year students from Senegal join students from the US, India and Cambodia to develop software together.MobileSenegal started Mobile Innovations Dakar and co-launched Mobile Monday Dakar to build a sustainable community of professionals around mobile technology. A recent project of MobileSenegal is to map and connect the different actors of the mobile ecosystem in Senegal.