Automation is the next best thing


A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend about a potential start-up idea. The idea led to a discussion about what would make a start-up successful these days, given the boom that has occurred and the likely decline of venture capitalists investing in them. This got me thinking about what currently makes apps so unpleasant to use: data entry.

Currently, most applications require the user to actively input data in order for it to be used. This is the case with most tracking apps: health, fitness, budgeting, etc. and search apps: search engines, restaurant finders, etc. These apps only become lucrative when a user becomes dependent on them, which happens when they have committed enough information to them, but what if they forget? Let’s go through a real-life example.

Results from a quick search

I was training for a half-marathon some time ago. In my training, I wanted and app to track my time from one run to the next and help me meet my goal. I started by doing some research for the best apps and found a few which I immediately downloaded. To my irritation, most required a great deal of information from me to get  started.

I subsequently gave them each a shot at tracking a run and here is where it got hairy. For some, there was a ton of settings to set up for reminders and updates; for others, music was impossible to get started in-app. After four trails-and-errors, I finally committed to one application for a year because of its web app component which allowed me to review my runs. One year of data that app had on me, a couple of months ago, I switched.

What happened?

There is not a dramatically amazing experience from one app to the next and I abandoned ship on a ton of data that I had tracked. The issue is that data entry, was much easier on the app I am using now than the previous more. What’s more, this app doesn’t even let me enter data I forgot to track, almost like punishment, which allows me to associate the tracking experience as painless.

The Learning Thermostat

The coolest things now are those that make data capture and it’s use as automatic as possible. That’s why Google Glass seemed so hot for a while, because it would make most things that require staring at a small screen and typing buttons a more natural gesture. That’s why similarly “smart” and “learning” products like the NestIFTT, and automation apps are so appealing. Think of the first magical time you got into a car that had blue-tooth synced with your phone and the music started playing automatically so you can pick up jamming where you left off. That magic is the what we need start-ups to create. The kind that acts on a users’ needs before the user is aware of that need.