How to Avoid Mistakes Hardware Companies Make With Companion Apps

How to Avoid Mistakes Hardware Companies Make With Companion Apps

How to Avoid Mistakes Hardware Companies Make With Companion Apps |


We’re living in the golden age of electronic devices. Just 20 years ago, a smart doorbell or an electronic, voice-responsive home assistant was something out of science fiction. These days, such devices and many other types of hardware are common and in high demand.

Avoid Mistakes Hardware Companies Make With Companion Apps

With the devices and hardware in high demand come heavy competition and the expectation that devices will integrate beautifully with users’ smartphones.

If your hardware technology company is to thrive, it needs to solve users’ problems and delight them in the process. If you miss your goal of solving a user’s issues — you may find your product featured on the popular and aptly named Twitter account Internet of Shit.

Why Companies Fumble Companion Apps

Despite this reality, many hardware companies tend to disappoint customers with questionable companion apps for their devices. Some companies consider the hardware the “hard part.

Yet, once manufacturing is finalized, retooling is a significant effort compared to revising software, so companies put the lion’s share of attention on getting the hardware right.

A noble gesture, but flawed.

In contrast, these companies consider software the easy part — and sometimes even just an afterthought. They don’t prioritize the high importance of building an excellent customer experience end-to-end.

Good Hardware, Bad App? Bye-bye, Users

It’s obviously vital to have your device work well and feel great to use. Companies often forget that the way most users interact with devices these days is through an app.

Your app is the crucial link between the user and your device.

If things work smoothly with your app, the device will be a pleasure to use. But a frustrating software experience can do significant damage to the perception of a product even if the hardware is polished and does its job well.

For years now, customer experience, or CX, has been a key determinant of who wins out in marketing. According to one Gartner study, about 4 out of 5 marketers responsible for CX at their companies expect to be competing mostly through who has the most compelling CX.

That’s unsurprising when you consider that one-third of users would ditch their beloved brands after just one clunky user experience. People hate fighting with technology, and bad CX feels like a fight.

The pandemic underscored the importance of CX.

In the past year as people have been stuck at home relying on their devices more than ever. Their tolerance for repeatedly poor experiences with hardware companion apps has likely dropped even further.

Bad Apps in Practice

I can say firsthand how frustrating a bad companion app can be. Just last month, we completed construction on our in-ground pool, one with a spa and heater, two water features, and multicolored lights.

The hardware is all fantastic: It shows the pool equipment company’s years of experience in this space and works flawlessly.

But the mobile app is an abject nightmare.

The mobile app loses its connection with the pool hardware controller every single time you launch the app. To the point — I’ve had to train myself (and the wife) to force-close the app every time I want to change something.

On top of that, the app is slow, buggy in other ways, and confusing. But it’s also the only way to control every feature of our new pool.

Instead of basking in the enjoyment of a beautiful display, I find myself more and more frustrated that this hardware company can’t get the software right.

And these problems aren’t just my experience; there are dozens of reviews and forum posts attesting to the same thing.

When enough users share their dissatisfaction, a company might find potential customers avoiding their brand even if the hardware itself is excellent.

How many times have you found yourself seeking alternatives because you stumbled on a few bad reviews before buying?

Bad Apps Can Damage Reputations 

Another example comes from the Philips Sonicare companion app. The overwhelmingly negative reviews clearly show how companies can craft the most elegant piece of technology only to hobble it with an app that is pure irritation.

One reviewer described the app’s use as follows: “[For] two minutes of brushing my teeth, I need to spend ten minutes first just to be able to connect toothbrush with this app — rebooting my phone, restarting the app, putting toothbrush on the charger and removing from it again.”

Fantastic hardware — inferior app

Most potential customers would see this process as inferior to simply using a manual toothbrush, which is a shame, given how much work Philips has invested in its hardware.

Avoiding Common Mistakes With Hardware Companion Apps

These examples make clear that a less-than-stellar app can really sink the perception of a good product. So how can hardware companies avoid these pitfalls?

1. Get started on the app as soon as possible.

Too often, companies wait until the last moment to work on mobile app development, and the result can feel shoehorned and cheap—or just plain broken.

Instead, work alongside your app development team throughout the hardware development process to ensure things work as expected, and that the goals on both sides are aligned.

Just as with hardware, great apps require time, testing, and patience. They should never be rushed, so give your app plenty of time to come together.

2. Look for talent that specializes in companion and mobile apps.

When companies commit to in-house app development, they often fall into the trap of thinking their hardware engineers can figure out how to make a great mobile app on their own.

Sure, smart, driven people can eventually figure things out given enough time and resources, but that’s not efficient, and it would likely cause more stress than it’s worth. That’s because the expertise to build hardware and firmware is very different from mobile app development.

It requires a completely different understanding of the ecosystem, design considerations, app store requirements, and best practices. It requires understanding, for example, the limitations and differences in popular brands and models of smartphones.

It also means app developers need to be fluent in the programming languages appropriate for the smartphone for which they are developing. Placement in the Apple Store, for instance, requires the Swift programming language or Objective-C, and Android devices call for Kotlin and Java.

You can go the cross-platform route with React Native or Xamarin, but each option has its own pros and cons. Trying to learn all of that on the fly can quickly bog a project down and delay releasing the device—or worse, cause the device to be released with a buggy, irritating app.

3. Think of the custom mobile app as an opportunity to impress your users.

Don’t plan for just the bare minimum to make your hardware functional. Instead, dedicate resources to building an experience that is both easy and fun to use.

Whether that’s with charming animations, beautiful UX design, or smart wording in your app’s content, it can be a surprisingly effective differentiator of your app and product compared to your competitors.

Hardware is about engineering, so it’s easy to present way too dry an image to the public (as anyone who has read a product manual can attest). Don’t make this mistake.

Fun apps do much more than coexist with high-tech products

A fun app can greatly enhance the user experience and differentiate you and your company.

As an example, consider my swimming pool controller app debacle. Sure, the primary gripe I had was the bugginess and unreliability of the mobile app customer experience.

But let’s assume all those issues were fixed. Wouldn’t it be compelling for the app to have some beautiful imagery of flowing bluish water or scenes of poolside relaxation and an aquatic-themed font and icon?

Every time I used it—or, better, showed it to friends—the app would be selling not only itself but also the device and the brand.

Consumer demand for devices is at a fever pitch.

Demand for great devices to make work and life more enjoyable is at an all-time high. Don’t shortchange your users with clunky, frustrating apps.

Commit the time, talent, and resources necessary to improve customer experience through outstanding custom mobile app development.

Image Credit: rob hampson; unsplash; thank you!

The post How to Avoid Mistakes Hardware Companies Make With Companion Apps appeared first on ReadWrite.


Chris Cardinal

Founding Principal of Synapse Studios

Chris Cardinal is a founding principal of Synapse Studios, a growing app consultancy that builds custom software for startups, enterprise, government, and just about anyone else.