We have built quite a few apps over the years at Flexnode and is one our favourites. It is also quite popular with around 200k hits monthly. Unfortunately, the 5 year old app broke and stop working recently, so John and I decided it is about time to rebuild it.

Since we are rebuilding the app, it is the perfect time to do some work on the dated design. Having used the app for years, we are quite familiar with the shortcomings. In this post, I'm going to walk you through some of our initial thought process we had when building the original app and what we are changing in the redesign.

Just want it to work

A few days ago, my desktop computer decided to go for a vacation and refused to boot up. Even though I'm a computer engineer, I rather let someone else fix it. All I want is that the computer to work as it should like an appliance.

I've noticed that I'm now more of a mainstream user than an advanced or early adopter for computers. I used to build my own system by buying the parts individually but now I prefer a complete solution like Macs.

Obviously, Apple products are far from being mainstream but the idea of making them to be more of an appliance is a good one. Setting up a computer should be like using a toaster for the first time.

It's nice when you have products that just works when you turn it on.

Dropbox: It actually works!

Drew Houston from Dropbox posted a slide about lessons they learned from building, launching and promoting their product. The first lesson was to learn early and learn often. You need to get something out to the users to get feedback. The catch is you need to build something that they want. They also found out that marketing using adwords didn't work out for them because users rarely search for a product like Dropbox. Instead, they rely on word of mouth from their fans to reach new users. The most important was to make the product work as it should.

There are many more insights about how to market a product like Dropbox. For example, it's also important to know the market type for your product and how it fits into your user's life. Check out the slides below.


Complements or complementary goods are products that are consumed together and if either of the product's price increase, demand for both products will be reduced. A common example would be a computer and the Operating System (e.g. Windows) that comes with it. Because complements are consumed together, there is always this tension between the products to reduce the price of the other in order to increase demand. Dell would want Windows to be cheaper so it can reduce the overall cost of the PC while Windows would also benefit from cheaper PC which will sell more Operating Systems.

There are some products which must be consumed with another. These are called perfect complements and the simplest example would be the left and right shoe. The sales ratio between them is always 1 to 1 because you buy them in pairs.

In order to control the price and demand, many companies will try to control both ends of the complements. Twitter's recently bought Tweetie (a 3rd party Twitter Client) to do just that. A cheaper (free) and better Twitter client will allow more users to use Twitter.

Complements can be your best partner or competitor. If you are just starting out, embracing your complements is one way to improve the attractiveness of your product. Microsoft funded most of their XBox games for that very reason. However, Microsoft is also been known to destroy their complements by bundling complementary apps directly in their products.

Many people cited their reason to buying the iPhone is for the thousands of applications in the App Store. In this case, the iPhone and the applications are complementary. If you are still interested in reading more about complements, check out these articles by Chris Dixon.

Features list

To decide if a product is better than the other, we normally compare their features list. But, if the products aren't in the same category, this doesn't work so well. This is why I think comparing the Apple iPad to laptops, iPod Touch or netbooks is pointless and irrelevant. When Apple entered the mobile phone market, they didn't care if their iPhone was lacking in features. Instead, they focused on what they thought was more important to a phone user. The iPhone isn't a phone for everyone but there was enough people that loved it.

After the App Store was added to the iPhone, you started to see the other mobile manufacturers attempting to match this feature by building their own. All of a sudden, the once-lacking-in-feature phone is now the one to beat.

I think the key to building a revolutionary product is to make your competitors' features list irrelevant. Invent your own category and if you succeed, your product's features list will then be the industry standard.

Barcode that helps you shop

A group of designers came up with an idea to help those who can't tell if a fruit is rotten, pick the fresh ones.


In supermarkets where loads of veggies is stacked and dumped, freshness may not be a priority. Keeping a track of all that’s been brought in can be time consuming and not all buyers may have a knack for freshness count. The Fresh Code offers a simple solution to this problem; it’s an intelligent barcode with a graph that indicates the freshness level. As time passes by, the graph on the barcode keeps receding, till it finally reaches “0”; indicating that the veggie needs to be dumped and not sold - Yanko Design

If only they have one that also tell you if you are being ripped off by the supermarket. I might actually enjoy shopping then.

Tagging in the real world

In Flickr, you can tag your photos to categorize them. On Facebook, you can tag the faces in your photos to link them to the actual person. (or spam others) Now, stickybits gives you a way to tag objects in the real world with digital content like photos, videos or messages. Tagging is done by scanning the bar-code on the item using their application that is available on iPhone and Android. If you are the first to scan the bar-code, the content that you tag onto it will appear first. There is also a history log to track if there's new content being attached to the item or when it changed location.

Currently the business model is selling packs of vinyl bar-code stickers so you can tag any items you want by simply stamping the stickers on them. There's nothing stopping stickybits from charging for exclusive rights to add content to items first and maybe even show related items when you scan something. Google Adsense for the real world anyone?

Now this is a brilliant idea that is well executed.

Are you a laggard?

When a new piece of technology or gadget comes out, are you the early adopter that couldn't wait to get your hands on it or are you the laggard who waits till everyone else is on board before getting one? Or maybe you are the innovative mind behind the new invention? Below is the Technology Adoption Lifecycle that shows how new ideas and technologies are adopted by different demographics.


For a product to enter the mainstream, it needs to move from the left to the right of the curve. State of the art and ground-breaking technology we hear about from researchers and scientists are still in the early innovators stage. Electric cars are still stuck in the early adopters stage until they figure out how to cross the chasm or the earth blows up.

In recent years, Facebook and Twitter have finally captured the attention of the early majority and sooner or later almost everyone is gonna have a Facebook account. To most businesses, reaching the late majority is the ultimate goal. The laggards are just too troublesome to be bothered with.

The Chasm is something proposed by Geoffrey A. Moore in Crossing the Chasm. For disruptive and discontinuous technologies, there is a chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. Inventions like MP3 format and the Internet is disruptive because they are innovation that are unexpected by the market.

If you want these disruptive technologies to be adopted by the mainstream, you have to position your product differently. Moore argues that the early adopters and early majority have very different expectations from your product and this is the main reason why most high tech products fail to reach the mainstream.

I'm still on the fence about using a smartphone but I do want to adopt the iPad as soon as I can.

Importance of price

Ever wondered what if there's no price tag on things we buy. How will it affect our buying decisions? Will we end up just getting the best or will the removal of price also removes the need to have different choices and we all end up buying the same thing? Some things are free, which means by definition they don't have a price. If you were to choose between a bunch of freebies what would you do? If price is no longer the differentiating factor or guide, will we be able to make better decision?

Price is important because our notion of value is based upon it. Without a price, we will have to judge products solely based on their specifications. Something we are supposed to do but apparently not many can due to the lack of domain knowledge.

So if the target of your product is the mainstream (e.g. clueless), should you use price as the guide to educate users on the value of your product in relation to your competitors? And if you are aiming for the early adopters, will being free makes it easier for them to see the true value of your product?