The "Make Everything Better" Button


Back when I used to help people design mobile phone apps, I would talk about the platonic ideal of an app. It's quite simple and effective.

A hand-drawn iPhone. In the middle is a single button which says "Make Everything Better".

You press the button in the middle of your screen - and it makes everything better! You push that button and a taxi arrives, or a pizza is delivered, or your photos are backed up, or you fall in love, or you learn a language.

Life is rarely that simple - and apps are rarely that smart. But let's look at what comes next.

Anticipatory User Interfaces

The most boring app I have is Tado - it controls my central heating. I never need to use the app! It sits in the background requiring no interaction. When it sees I am home, it sets the temperature accordingly. If I'm away overnight, it doesn't bother turning on the hot water. If it sees me travelling home, and it is cold, it pre-heats the house.

Other than my initial set up, I don't have to press any buttons. The app becomes the perfect Butler.

(To clarify - this isn't about learning. Most people's lives are too chaotic for a machine to adequately learn. We very rarely all fit the 9-to-5 grind, with 2.4 kids, and brunch every Sunday. It's one of the problems the Nest thermostat has with its "learning" feature - and why people disable it - our lives are too noisy.)

The app anticipates what you need and delivers it without asking.

Boring is Beautiful

I don't want your app. But if I have to have it - I certainly don't want to interact with it. I don't want your notifications cluttering up my screen. I know your brand-manager harps on about "engagement" and "eyeballs" - but I don't care. Prove to me that you are useful by never interrupting me.

There are so many things competing for our attention. Too many things. It's really easy to make your app noisy and engaging. It looks great on a PowerPoint when you can show how often people open your app, I get that. But every time I get a perky email from my smoke-alarm telling me how wonderful it is, I want to rip it from my wall. Do your job and leave me alone.

So, dear app designers, refrain from sending constant, pleading emails in the vain hope that your click-through-rate will inch ever-closer to perfection.

No. Refine your service so that it can work silently. Let the absence of interaction be a selling point.

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