Designing and releasing a good Android app: Tips from Mxit

Mxit has launched their new Android app recently and it’s getting a good response from their target users. I chatted to Ryno Kotzé and Maia Grotepass, two members of the dev team, about how they did it.

Getting the right balance

And example of chat cards on Mxit for Android And example of a backdrop on Mxit for Android

As advocated by the Kano model, the new version contains a mixture of basic expectations, new functions and delighters.  For example…

Basic expectation: For new joiners the process of finding your friends much smoother.  And the app helps you find a few more friends every time you use it, so that it doesn’t become too overwhelming. This is a basic expectation for a modern social app – building your social graph should be almost effortless.

New: Timeline/Newsfeed.  You can now post updates to your timeline and see a newsfeed of everyone’s updates. This is a major new feature for Mxit, which in the past has been a chat-only product.

New: You can post a range of “chat cards” to make chat a richer experience. Mxit can help you search for pictures and videos, post jokes or chat-up lines, roll the virtual dice and more. Expressing yourself with a picture or a video takes chat to the next level.

Delighter: You can share your photos as chat “backdrops” – to customise the appearance of each chat on the fly.

Standards compliance

As we discussed in the post about the 22Seven android app, following the Android design guidelines make life a lot easier.  Ryno spent a sprint making sure he was familiar with all the design guidelines, and working out how they would structure the interface to make the most of them.  “We started from scratch using Fragments, which meant we designed the app to work elegantly on a tablet and a phone. That worked out really well – we got a good design for both kinds of device and it was not much extra effort at all.”

As the build continued, there were points where there was pressure to deviate from the Android guidelines, but for the most part, they stayed on track.

“You get such an advantage by sticking to the standards,” Ryno told me. “Android users expect your app to follow the Android ways of doing things. It’s not the same as iPhone.”

Mxit has used the Navigation drawer as their primary navigation. They experimented with additional navigation, but simple and straightforward won the day.

Beta and feedback strategy

Mxit Android Beta Logo

The team has been using beta testing to help them get essential customer feedback about reliability and functionality.

“A great feature of the Play Store means we can run a closed beta group just by adding our beta testers to a particular Google+ community,” Maia explained. “Only the members of that group can see and access the private beta on the Play Store.” They can also see each other’s feedback and discuss ideas with the developers.

We also run a separate public beta app on the Play Store.  Mxit users who want to try out the latest features can install the Mxit-Beta app and play on the cutting edge. The team updates the beta app after each sprint. After a few beta releases to work the kinks out and get user feedback, a final release version is published as the main Mxit app.

“Beta feedback is great for improving software reliability. And that really matters if you want a high Play Store rating. But the user feedback is really helping us prioritise our backlog,” Ryno explained. “We had removed the nickname feature from our beta release, but people told us they really wanted it back. They also were very keen to make sure we prioritised moods and presence – those are important parts of how people chat on Mxit.  So those features were all included in the final release.  We’d have got that wrong without the beta feedback.”

Facing the feedback via the Play Store isn’t always easy, Maia told me. “People are grumpy.  That’s like a knife to the chest. The happy “we love it” comments make you feel better. But they are not so useful for helping us improve the app.

When they do see a negative comment on the public Beta, the team tries to give helpful feedback.”It’s nice that we can reply to user reviews and comments,”says Maia. “We post tips to help people with specific problems.”

Mxit's Android development team: Ryno, Maia, Marc and Jaco Mxit’s Android development team: Ryno, Maia, Marc and Jaco

It’s never done

Maia’s favourite feature in Mxit 7.1 is chat backdrops. Ryno’s favourite is the news feed.  But there are more changes in the pipeline.  Install the Mxit Beta app from the Play Store if you want to see what’s coming.