The Developer's Dilemma

The Developer’s Dilemma

February 1, 2011

Secrets. Does anyone really like secrets? My guess is that most people don’t. If information is power, then I guess the reason we hate having it kept from us is that it takes some of that power away.

And here’s something else we don’t like: Waiting for stuff. Really, who likes waiting? (if you do actually like waiting, go call your telco or bank and enjoy the hold music).

So nobody likes secrets, and nobody likes waiting.

App Store customers are no different. They love apps, and like to have information from developers. The trouble is that software development doesn’t always go according to plan, and plans can change at any time. In fact it’s pretty rare for software plans to stay on schedule.

So the dilemma is ‘How much is too much information?’. Customers often ask us for information about our plans for new features, updates, platform ports or entirely new apps. On the one hand we’d love to answer all of these questions. Why hold back from people if there could be helpful information to share? But all too often when developers announce plans, somehow they turn into promises and if they fall behind schedule, all hell can break loose.

So what’s the answer? Should developers announce their plans out of respect for customers and take it on the chin if things backfire? Or keep everything a secret and risk alienating customers by never giving anything away?

Apple have famously taken the secretive approach. Some say to their discredit but the fact is that keeping new products and features under wraps until the end of their development cycle has been a huge factor in Apple’s success.

To be honest, we’re not 100% sure where indie app developers like ourselves should stand, but we’ve decided to stay closer to the secretive end of the scale. We’re happy to discuss bug fixes and performance issues, but as far as new features and products, we’re going to remain tight-lipped (as the saying goes, it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver). But we want our customers to know that we don’t enjoy being secretive. It’s a very hard and quite unnatural thing to be.

What I will say is that we are really excited about the year ahead, and when the time comes I hope you’ll decide that the secrets we’re keeping now were well worth the wait.

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  1. I was raised in a business family and my Dad used to say never say anything because people can’t distinguish between general discussion of possibilities, planning for eventualities and hard promises. So the slightest indication of desire or intention becomes a promise.

    eg. “I would like to build a better workshop when we have the money” becomes in the mind of a mechanic “I’m going to build you the workshop of your dreams next week”

    So make no promises just announcements of the “faite accompli”

  2. It’s tough to find the right balance – people love to be ‘in the know’ about new features before updates go live, but they feel let down if they expect a new feature which for some reason doesn’t materialise.
    The balance I have struck for my apps is to announce new features when I submit updates to Apple, that way my customers are still a little ahead of the game and know what to expect.

  3. For an indie, the approach outlined is essential. There may be times when you have strategic alliances/commitments that might foretell a different approach, but you will always delight if you under promise and over deliver.


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