What “Anti-Smartphone” Products Have To Teach Developers

November 17, 2016 - 3 minutes read

App fatigue is an epidemic, and smartphone users feel more overwhelmed by technology than every before. The proof is in the market — and KickStarter has demonstrated widespread public interest in a series of unique “anti-smartphone” products that strip down the phone until it’s basically a flip phone in a smartphone shape. Case in point: the Light Phone, which raised over $400,000 to construct a credit-card-sized 2G call-only phone.

On the more humorous side, Kickstarter developers also earned significant startup capital for a conceptual “brick phone” project that created dead-weight iPhone replicas that could provide the “satisfaction of holding a phone without the distraction of actually using one.”

The question for Los Angeles app developers is: why would consumers want a product with less features. And more importantly: what does that mean for UX, UI, and product designers?

First and foremost, it’s a sign that users crave simplicity. App developers can deliver on this by limiting notifications and interactions that don’t lead directly to user goals. There’s a prevailing sentiment among some app developers that the best way to retain users is to barrage them with notifications. (Twitter’s recent push to drive engagement by sending push notifications for seemingly random friend activity, for example.) This can work in the short term under some circumstances, but in the long term developers need to ensure that users don’t become annoyed by these “nudge” features. If they do, it may save a few pennies on user acquisition, but it costs much more in brand impression.

Secondly, the trend suggests that users are increasingly interested in minimalism, at least so far as products go. The more minimal, the more “premium,” and hardware and software that delivers on a sleek, minimal aesthetic will generally be rewarded with top-paying users. For apps, this means dialing down the interactions and integrating with newer smartphone interaction methods, like voice control.

When designed well, an app doesn’t make users want to throw in the towel on smartphone use. Instead, it allows them to integrate the phone to their life — without letting it take over. App developers who meet that need will be rewarded by the next generation of app users.

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