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What can designers learn from mobile app developers?

Mobile app development is an industry that has expanded almost as rapidly as the actual smartphone marketplace itself. Thanks to the wide availability of mobile devices and a low barrier of entry, thousands of app developers have tried their hand at creating software for the iOS and Android platforms. In the past five years, nearly 100 billion such apps have been downloaded from both stores. Many have become extremely popular and have brought financial success to the creators.

While designing hardware is obviously not the same thing as creating a software program, there are still many lessons that designers can learn from the hard work of app developers. Harvard Business Review contributor Colin Raney recently outlined one of the most important ones.

Simply put, designers must always focus on creating a smooth customer experience.

Think about the kinds of programs you encounter when you browse an app store. Some are premium products that retail for relatively high prices. Some are much cheaper—say, 99 cents. And a large number are free to download.

At first glance, it would seem that the paid apps must gross the most revenue. But that is not always the case. For example, Raney cites the popular game Candy Crush Saga, which is free to download yet is still one of the highest-grossing apps available. Why? Because users are limited in how often they can play the game, and some are willing to pay to play more. This payment model, known as "freemium," is becoming increasingly popular among app developers. 

In other words, if you offer consumers something they immediately love, they will give you money for it.

App developers have to do this because competition for similar services is so fierce. If any users can quickly find ten different apps that effectively do the same thing, they will generally choose the one that costs the least money up front. In order to provide a deeper experience, developers must consider unique ways of funding their project, like the one mentioned above.

In hardware, competition is not quite so fierce, and, of course, you can't build in-app purchases into a piece of physical equipment. But you can design it in such a way that consumers will immediately recognize its usefulness and fall in love with it.

Sozo Design has a history of creating such works with its clients, and seeks new partners to create wonderful experiences and products. For example, by working with the Kensington Technology Group, we designed the Contour backpack which includes the Lumbar, a fully-adjustable back support that helps shift weight onto the hips, thus providing more support and fostering a healthy ergonomic carrying and weight distribution environment.

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