10 rules for classy apps – a developer manifesto


Apps that do no evil
Apps that do no evil
Photo: Graham Bower / Cult of Mac

If you ever dig into the privacy policies of app developers, be prepared for a shock. This is where they confess their sins: invading your privacy, selling your data, and pestering you with popups and unwanted ads.

As the App Store becomes increasingly crowded and competitive, many developers struggle to make a profit. Some turn their attention to alternative sources of revenue, and the quality of their apps suffer as a result.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are the 10 rules for developers to keep things “classy.”

Does anyone “do no evil” these days?

Apple requires all apps using HealthKit to include a privacy policy. And since I’m about to add HealthKit support to Reps & Sets, (the fitness app I develop with my partner, Martin Algesten), I have spent a lot of this week writing one.

In my research, I dredged through endless mind-numbing legalese in the privacy policies of other apps, and it led me to wonder, does anyone “do no evil” these days?

Google famously summarized their corporate philosophy with the words “don’t be evil.” It is debatable how well they have stuck to this goal, but it is a worthy one nonetheless.

Many indie app developers struggle to make an honest buck as the App Store becomes increasingly crowded. It can be tempting to find new sources of income that some might describe as “evil.” You’ll discover the confessions of these sins buried deep within the arcane jargon of their privacy policies. Like how some developers sell your e-mail address to third parties, so they can send you spam.

Which should you put first, users or profits?

I don’t believe that app developers should ever make trade-off decisions between the user’s best interests and commercial considerations. The user experience should come first every time.

That may be a bit much coming from someone like me, who has never made a profit from my own app. But I still believe that our best chance of success will come from focusing on our product, rather than our profits.

I know that our app is far from perfect. Users frequently e-mail me with suggestions for how we could make it better. But what I can say is that every choice we have made has been based upon what we thought would be most useful to our users. And that is something I am proud of.

I think the underlying philosophy of how developers make decisions about their apps is important.

The App Dogma Manifesto

In 1995, the avant-garde movie director Lars von Trier published what he called the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” His manifesto comprised of 10 rules for filmmaking that rejected special effects and flashy gimmicks in favor of traditional values of storytelling and acting.

The idea was that by certifying films that followed these rules as “Dogme 95 films” he would help to raise their profile, empowering indie filmmakers, so that they could fight back against the dominance of the big movie studios.

With this in mind, I started to think about what a Dogma Manifesto for indie app developers would look like. What are the principles of excellence for user-focused app development?

The manifesto is based on the good stuff I see in the App Store. Despite all the challenges, you can still find some true gems. These apps are from developers who have chosen to focus on the quality of their product rather than the quantity of their profits.

These devs deserve some recognition.

For what it is worth, here are the 10 rules I came up with:

  • Follow conventions: the user interface must follow the design guidelines and style of the platform on which the app is running and must not feature excessive branding.
  • Respect privacy: the app must never share data with third parties and must not ask for permission to do so. App usage and performance should only be monitored for the purpose of optimizing the user experience.
  • Don’t interrupt: the app must not interrupt the user with random requests, like asking for ratings and reviews.
  • Use notifications for a reason: notifications must only be used to tell the user that something has happened – never to pester the user into returning to the app.
  • Requesting permission: apps must only ask for permission for things that will help the user perform a task, and only when the user needs them, so that the reason for the request is obvious to the user based on the context.
  • Save bandwidth: bandwidth must only be used for things that benefit the user. They are paying for it.
  • Use plain language: all text must be written in clear, simple language that the average user can understand. This includes the user interface, marketing and small print.
  • Keep pricing simple: the price of the app must remain consistent, with only occasional changes and no time-limited offers. The app must be fully usable without requiring in-app purchases.
  • Keep marketing classy: descriptions on the App Store must clearly and simply describe the app without using special characters, shouty language or gimmicks.
  • Keep ads discrete: ads appearing within the app must be small, discrete and clearly labelled Advertising and promotions must never become confused with the app’s content.

These are the core principles I believe any user-focused app developer should follow. You may or may not agree with them — let us know in the comments below.


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