Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Facebook Home Android app flop

Many of you may have heard that the new Facebook Home app for Android has been a dud. Here are a couple of articles by SFGate and Business Insider.

The San Francisco Gate article caught my attention as it talked about a theory raised by Josh Constine from TechCrunch as to why this may have happened. Lack of “droidfooding". The Android app was essentially created by iOS developers who didn’t understand how Android devices work and did not realize how "important widgets, docks, and app folders were to Android users, and that leaving them out of Home was a huge mistake".

If that is true, then it makes me wonder how the Facebook’s product management and testing (including Usability/UX testing) works. Despite the fact that most of the Facebook employees are reported as iPhone users it's quite possible that some folks from the in-house Android UX experts and test teams voiced their opinion about obvious differences between Android and iPhone devices interfaces and the potential impact on the users and business. The sad part about this story is that I can relate to what happened. I too was in a situation when I worked on a native app project that looked like a web site. My reasonings and sentiments were shared by others. Decision makers on the project took all the UX feedback and research information into consideration but moved forward with the release of the app without incorporating much of the feedback. Results were similar to the Facebook app. It hurt but there was little I could do.

As Michael Bolton said in his blog - "We are not the brains of the project. That is to say, we don’t control it. Our role is to provide ESP—not extra-sensory perception, but extra sensory perception. We’re extra eyes, ears, fingertips, noses, and taste buds for the programmers and the managers. We’re extensions of their senses. At our best, we’re like extremely sensitive and well-calibrated instruments—microscopes, telescopes, super-sensitive microphones, vernier calipers, mass spectrometers. We help the programmers and the managers to see and hear and otherwise sense things that, in the limited time available to them, and in the mindset that they need to do their work, they might not be able to sense on their own."

Like many tech companies, was Facebook driven by artificial deadlines that had to be kept or else "the company will cease to exist"? There is always pressure from management, especially management who are not involved in any technical aspect of the product’s lifecycle. And they can, and do, override any legitimate concerns caught by the implementation team. “We’ll address it later, let’s get the product out Yesterday!”

The sad thing is that this is not uncommon. It happens in large and small IT shops. And it seems so ingrained that even customers and users expect new technology to be buggy. It is changing with mobile apps. As soon as you release an app with media hype, people will download and use it. And they will promptly post feedback. This initial feedback can make or break a product. When mobile app users see negative reviews and less than 3-4 star ratings they are unlikely to come back. Worse for the company is that those users will spread the word among people that they know.  Facebook Home currently has 2.5 stars on Google Play. Would you download it?

Facebook just learned that the hard way. Users dislike the app and AT&T/HTC have to practically give away the phone that came with it installed. I hope they and other companies do enough dogfooding as well as usability testing and listen better to their internal users’s feedback next time around.

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