What makes a great mobile app great?
Ever wondered who’s behind some of those essential, favorite applications you use every day on your Pocket PC or smartphone, and how they’ve made them so popular and successful?
Or wanted to know more about how some of this great software get developed, and what’s coming along in the future from leading
If so, hopefully you will enjoy this series of posts, where we will
talk to some of the very best software developers and publishers. In
these brief Q&A sessions, we’ll learn a little about how they got
started, their views on how the whole mobile applications area is going
to develop, and their thoughts on what it takes to make excellent mobile software.
For our second post in this series, we are very happy to have Ilium Software, makers of eWallet, ListPro, NewsBreak and other great titles. Two of their principals have provided some great answers and thoughts on what makes a useful and useable app, which other developers they rate highly, the future of Windows Mobile, and lots more!
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Founded: June, 1997
Number of Staff: (breakdown of management / developers / support staff)
Nine. The split is very loosely 30% each of management, developers, support and marketing, which we realize makes more than 100%, but several of us do more than one thing.
CEO / Principals:
Ken Morse – CEO
Ellen Craw – General Manager
Dan Amstutz – CTO
Flagship Products: eWallet, ListPro, NewsBreak
Platforms: Windows Mobile (Pocket PC and Smartphone), Palm OS, Windows PCs (including the new UMPC) running XP and Vista
Numbers of Products Sold / Trial Downloads: Well into the millions
Q: Can you tell us a little about how the company got started? Was there a particular gap you saw, an application you wanted and nobody made or did right?
Ellen: I’d been interested in mobile computing (such as it was) for a long time. When Microsoft came out with the first Handheld PC, it seemed like a good time to put some of the ideas I’d been kicking around into practice.
Q: Give us the ‘Elevator Pitch’ on Ilium Software – what’s the corporate philosophy that drives your product development?
Ken: Simple Software, not complicated – it has to help the user. People must be able to get at the information they need wherever they are without a lot of fuss.
Ellen: I like software, and I’m convinced it can make people’s lives a little easier. But I’m so often frustrated by buggy software, or software that’s hard to use. Our company tagline – Simple Software for a Simpler Life – is what all our products try to accomplish.
Q: What makes a GREAT Pocket PC application? What are the key factors in making a really successful and effective application for mobile devices?
Ellen: I think it needs to be either usable and useful, or usable and fun. Or all 3 if you can pull it off. Usability is always important in software, but it’s critical on a handheld, where you’re working with space (both memory and screen size) constraints, and input limitations. If a program isn’t easy to use, people won’t use it, no matter how useful or fun it is.
And mobile platforms are always changing quickly. Good products keep up with the latest hardware and operating system advancements so users can always count on their favorite software taking advantage of the latest new features and changes.
Q: eWallet and ListPro are hugely well-known and well-loved applications. What makes them so successful? How do you keep ahead of the competition? Are there any major wish-list items for these two products that users have told you about that you can tell us are going to feature in a next releases?
Ellen: I think what makes both of those successful is that they’re useful and usable, without being too complicated. It’s way too easy to fall into the trap of adding features to the detriment of a product’s usability.
Ken: And the fun factor Ellen mentioned earlier comes in with customization. For example, ListPro not only offers lists for daily routine (shopping, packing, etc.) but also many entertainment lists via our List Exchange – everything from book and music lists to TV episode and film guides.
Another key thing our customers tell us they really like is our phone support. In addition to emailing us, you can call us (toll-free if you’re in the U.S.) and you’ll reach someone who is very knowledgeable about mobile devices and using our software, and will do their very best to provide the help you need and to answer your questions.
Q: I’ve read a few pieces recently on smartphones and mobile applications, and the lack of takeup of applications by ‘normal’ users (i.e. not geeks). There’s a great piece by Michael Mace at Mobile Opportunity on the need for a new mobile platform, because ‘sophisticated mobile data apps’ just don’t sell well. (see it at: http://mobileopportunity.blogspot.com/). It seems that a huge percentage of users just don’t know about a lot of the great software that is out there, and don’t know all the powerful things they can do with their mobile device (beyond just phone and email). What are your thoughts on the state of mobile apps sales and how to grow awareness and sales to more of the ‘entry-level’ users out there?
Ellen: I’m a huge fan of Michael Mace; I never miss his blog. I completely agree with him about user awareness.
Ken: The converged devices typically come from a phone store and purchasers often don’t even realize they can add software to their “phone”. For example, all of us have many different passwords and personal bits of information, but how can new users find out they could put eWallet on their phone for help with securely storing all their personal information, or use ListPro for reusable shopping and travel lists right on their phone? I think the user awareness issue could be solved by two main fronts: first, letting people know they can customize their devices with software and second, all device ROMs should include an updatable software catalog application that lets people search for and download software for their device.
Q: Do you also feel that there will gradually be more ‘bundling’ of apps on devices? Is this something you would look at, if device manufacturers wanted to include eWallet or ListPro or others on all devices?
Ken: Several of our applications, including eWallet, ListPro, DockWare and NewsBreak have been bundled in some form with various devices and of course we’re always very happy to talk with the manufacturers and carriers about including our apps.
But while bundling can be beneficial for the a particular application on a particular device, it doesn’t help the market for software in general, or the users’ awareness of adding third-party software. OEMs typically have a very limited software budget and are often only looking for a very small number of applications. The software catalog idea would do two things: first, it would let the user know that their device can be customized by adding software and second, it would let them search for software that they would find useful.
Q: Are there Product Roadmaps that you work to for your stable of products – i.e. should we expect a major new version release every 12-18 months, a .x release once per year? What’s the approach in this area?
We’d like to do a major new version of at least eWallet and ListPro once a year, but sometimes the reality of just keeping up with OS changes and new ideas gets in the way of that. That’s our goal, but we’ll never compromise our products’ quality to reach it.
Q: How do your products do in the ‘converged devices’ area as opposed to non-connected PDAs – do you have numbers or a feel for what percentage of your userbase is ‘straight’ PDAs, as opposed to converged devices?
Ellen: There are a lot of statistics around. I’m never sure whether to believe them, especially when they contradict each other. We do have quite a few users already who are using converged devices.
Q: I believe you’re on of the first PPC software publishers to bring out a UMPC-specific version of a leading product (eWallet). What are your thoughts on the potential for UMPCs? Will this become an area that all your products will see some action in?
Ken: We already have apps for the PC that are companion apps to our “mobile” versions – for example, we do have versions of eWallet and ListPro that already run on a PC. What we’re looking at doing now is how we can have them really exploit the UMPC form factor.
Ellen: I’m excited and optimistic about the UMPCs. If they live up to their potential – and I realize that’s a big if – I think they can revolutionize mobile computing. But I’m also experienced enough to know that we can’t make decisions based just on what I think (or hope) will happen. We’ll be constantly evaluating the market, and changing our plans based on what happens.
Q: Is the future bright for Windows Mobile? What are some of the exciting things to look forward to in the next generation of WM, and what are some of the ways the OS development will allow you to produce more powerful products?
Ken: I think the future is very bright for Windows Mobile. One example of it’s success is Palm’s uptake of the Windows Mobile OS and the popularity of the Windows Mobile-based Treo 700w. It would be nice going forward if the there was just one version of Windows Mobile to remove the need for separate Pocket PC and Smartphone versions of a product.
Q: The Smartphone and Pocket PC awards for 2006 will come out later this year. I always find that a superb jumping-off point for finding great software in lots of categories. So … any of your products we should placing a wager on as a potential 2006 winner?
We’ve been very fortunate in that eWallet, ListPro and NewsBreak have all won these awards in previous years; eWallet and ListPro several times. There are a lot of great mobile applications out there, so for 2006, who knows?
Q: Which other software publishers do you rate highly? Who else should be getting some of those awards this year?
There are quite a few. Some of the companies who make first rate applications and have been developers of mobile apps along with us since the early days are Laridian, PhatWare, WebIS, Conduits, SPB and Landware. We also spend a little too much time with Astraware’s and Handmark’s great games.
Q: What can we look forward to from Ilium Software in the rest of 2006, and into 2007? New versions? Any brand new products coming?
We’re working on upgrades to both eWallet and ListPro. Both upgrades add features that we’re all really excited about. We’re already using the early versions inhouse, and there’s a lot to be proud of. As for new products, we’ve got a little something in the works, but we can’t say any more than that!
For more information (and trial downloads) of eWallet, ListPro, NewsBreak and Ilium’s other superb and award-winning software, you should get over to:
Tags: Ilium Software, eWallet, ListPro, Q&A with mobile software devlopers , Just Another Mobile Monday