The first version of a new mobile app is often like the first pancake. It tastes good, but looks less than perfect and gets pushed aside at the breakfast table. Launching a new app on the Play Store with its millions of apps and over a billion regular visitors can be like this for a new company with a new app.
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Compounding the problem is the average Play Store user is often less than tolerant of beta versions of software, quickly installing and removing the app and leaving little more than a record that the app with removed within a few seconds. And some leave bad feedback, dissuading more tolerant users from installing the software.
Readfeed, an app that helps book lovers share and discuss their favorite reads with each other, just graduated from Google’s Early Access program and moved on to the Google Play Store with a polished release. Product managers, designers and developers will find the observations of Readfeed founder Rajiev Timal useful in his guest post on Google’s blog.
Benefits of Google’s Early Access program
Users need to sign up for the Early Access program, creating a community that is interested in and tolerant of new releases. These users are more inclined to give useful feedback that will add up to a statistically relevant cohort to measure the apps iterative development progress. The community could be thought of as a very large volunteer focus group.
Often times the app logic is completed much earlier than the user interface (UI) design. Designers and developers get direct feedback from users and built-in app analytics to find the best designs that please users the most. Users can be segmented for A/B testing to find the best UI. New features are discovered during the dialog between developer and users. The Early Access program is a worldwide community where developers can find the markets where their app resonates the best.
Every mobile app will have bugs. A serious bug that causes crashes would lead to low ratings and negative comments on the Play Store. More tolerant Early Access users will report how the app crashed, complementing analytics to find and fix the offending code.
Early adopters are community-minded and tend to help one another. The relationship between the developer and the community and between community members inspires loyalty that will accompany the app to the Play Store, with the final release creating a valuable brand.
Google tried this before using Google Groups with some success. The Early Access program is an iteration of what was learned with Google Groups. It is more useful to developers and helps Google strengthen its large developer community by giving them a safe place to test apps.