Shipping Ugly

As a Product Manager, I pride myself on delivering products with some polish. The polish is the delight, that makes your users smile and want to use you again and again, beside just getting the job done. Most companies don’t add the polish, since it’s sometimes hard to measure the impact of polish/delight directly, but thankfully that’s been changing recently in B2C products, and hopefully we’ll see it more in B2B products.

While working on the ReadWell eReader app, I had to do something I was not proud of: I had to ship an ugly experience.

ReadWell works on both iOS and Android, and we use Cordova to build the app in HTML, CSS, and Javascript and it “magically” works on both of those platforms. As you know, each platform has different versions of their OSes that are live at any given moment. With iOS devices, most users upgrade to the latest OS version (currently iOS8), some are 1 version behind but very few are 2 versions behind.

Android is a different story. According to the Feb. ’15 update on the Android Dashboard, Lollipop, Android’s latest OS, released in Nov. 2014, is hardly on more than 2% of Android devices while KitKat, the version before Lolipop, is on 40% of all Android devices.

So we can say 42% of all Android devices have either the latest or somewhat latest OS running. But that’s only 42%, what are the remaining 58% running?

Well, this is where developing for Android gets tricky…

44.5% are running some version of Jelly Bean, the third most recent OS from Google, which was released in 2012, and the remaining 14.2% of devices are running older OSes.

And of course, each OS has a different webview (renders HTML and executes Javascript differently) and so if your app (if developed with Cordova) behaves differently – aka you may have different bugs on each platform. Sounds like a Product Manager’s nightmare, right?

It definitely is!

So after putting ReadWell on a Jelly Bean device and seeing some crazy bugs, I had an “oh shit” moment. I had focused a lot of making sure I had a smooth experience on KitKat and Lollipop devices, but forgot about the order devices.

Dev time is precious. Should I ask my developer to fix all these bugs on each of the older OSes?

Before I asked him to do anything, I took a quick breath. The Android Dashboard’s stats are based on devices that access the Play store around the world. I looked for US stats but couldn’t find any. Time to use my spidey/product senses…

I wagered that most Jelly Bean users were outside of North America and mostly likely in third world countries. My target customers are in the US who have access to the latest devices, but there’s still a possibility that some of my target market are on Jelly Bean.

Would these Jelly Bean users be heavy app users? If there are on an old device, there are used to a somewhat slow experience and might not be heavy app users, so most likely they might not want to read an eBook on their device since they might not care or cannot afford to upgrade to a newer device.

But what if I have Jelly Bean customers? Should I still deliver a broken experience to them? They paid money to read an eBook and if they find a shitty experience, they are going to call Customer Service and ask for a refund. Not only do we lose the eBook sale, but now it’s burning Customer Service time which definitely costs more than the eBook!

With that reasoning in mind, I decided to prioritize some of the critical Jelly Bean bugs that were severely inhibiting up the reading experience and leave the rest. If a user could successfully log into the app, see the eBooks they purchased and be able to read them, then I’m happy…for now.

The other Jelly Bean bugs, which are not so pleasant, will have to wait for when we launch and see what OSes my customers are on. If there is a decent amount (>15%) on Jelly Bean, then we’ll go back and fix the other annoyances that don’t show up on KitKat and Lollipop. With B2C products, the switching costs are low since the investment is low (no contract, no processes, and no training which are required by B2B products), so if customers find a crappy experience, they are gone! I want to

With B2C products, the switching costs are low since the investment is low (no contract, no processes, and no training which are required by B2B products), so if customers find a crappy experience, they are gone! I want to keep my customers on ReadWell and not give them reasons, which are under my control/influence, to switch to/back to Kindle or the Nook.

Let’s see if my wager pays off..


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