This is the third in a series of articles discussing the reinvention of the award-winning calculator, PowerOne. Read the entire series here.
I suspect the most controversial decision we made from our customer’s perspective was to require accounts. There were a number of reasons we decided to do this and was one of the reasons we decided to ship this version as a new app and not replace the old one.
A Better Product
First of all and most important, we felt we could provide a significantly better product. With the previous version of PowerOne I observed that it was a major problem to get a user’s templates from one device to another if, say, he uses both an iPhone and an iPad. And then if he made changes it was easy for those to get out of sync.
Furthermore, if I want to look at my history or memory of calculator calculations I shouldn’t have to remember on which device I did the math.
If one of our users has to install on a fresh device, it is also a pain to get set back up. She has to download all the templates she used from the library again.
And that doesn’t even include being able to use PowerOne on a desktop computer. Creating templates, in particular, is really nice with a full screen and physical keyboard, and I’ve heard from more than one person that running calculations on the web version when that person sits at his computer all day is fantastic.
And this doesn’t even include the future features we want to add that are also only possible with accounts.
But asking for an account is controversial. Based on early download data, it is clear we are losing about half of our customers before they create an account. People don’t want an extra account to manage.
Furthermore, more than one of our customers have equated accounts with a lack of privacy. While they have nothing to do with each other I at least understand why someone would think this.
Building a Relationship
The reality is that Apple pretends that the customers of my products are their customers, not mine. They do everything in their power to keep us at arm’s length from our customers.
Personally, I’m tired of having no relationship with my customers. I can’t make a better product if I can’t talk to them. I want to hear the good and bad. As a small independent developer I want my customers to know who I am, to feel comfortable asking for me by name on a support email, and to know that there are two people on the other end thoughtfully developing and designing this product.
The truth is everything is a trade-off and those trade-offs are even more acute when working with a tiny development team. Rick and I are it. We are developing PowerOne on multiple platforms, by ourselves¹. We don’t have a quality assurance team to test the app and make sure it is solid. We do that ourselves.
When we considered accounts we also considered some of the app with an account and some without. But that adds complexity to the app which adds extra testing burden now and forever. It also restricts what we do later as we can no longer count on our customers having accounts.
Rick and I decided the trade-off wasn’t worth it and required an account to use the app.
The hard truth is that there is no such thing as privacy, and hasn’t been for well over a decade. If you are using a product – any product – the company that designs that product has complete access to everything you do in that app and has access to many things you do on your device. Developers also have the ability to change the product on you at any time without asking your permission and forcing you to use it or delete it, given how app stores work today.
Some companies are nefarious. Some companies take your data and access your device. Some companies look at everything you do in their apps and figure out best how to make money off of you.
But most companies don’t. Most companies respect their customers and want to do right by them.
Rick and I took all of this into account when making the decision. Besides making the app free, this was easily the hardest decision and one we vacillated on the longest. But at the end of the day I’d rather have less customers who want to have a relationship with me and prefer the benefits.
¹ Rick and I do get help from a few part-timers, but none of them write code.