What can others learn from how you conceived of and designed your solution?: 

A key principle to keep in mind when designing future technologies or products is to continuously question the sustainability of existing solutions. One solution’s current success is not inherently an indicator of future success. The question we must ask is simple: will today’s model work in the future, given the expected trajectory of the market and the ecosystem? A good analogy is science’s pursuit of sustainable energy. Burning fossil fuels is simply not a sustainable solution to the world’s energy needs, in spite of fossil fuel’s long history. Likewise, Quixey noticed that today’s solutions for app discovery and software consumption are not sustainable given the rapid growth of the app ecosystem.

Just how fast is the app ecosystem growing? On July 9, 2008, Apple announced the launch of their App Store. On October 22, 2013, a little over five years later, Apple published that it had over one million apps in its store and over 60 billion downloads to date. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/App_Store_(iOS)) Google Play reached their mark of one million apps in July of 2013, roughly 4 years after launch date, as well as 50 billion downloads to date. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Play) In comparison, the Internet took six years to reach one million websites in 1997. (http://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites/) What we are seeing is a rapidly growing market with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Apple App Store Apps and Downloads

The challenge of designing a product that is intended for the future is that you cannot measure its future value based on today’s metrics. Your product will need to operate under a set of future needs, market pressures, and technological capabilities. To make matters worse, none of these parameters can be definitively confirmed, only predicted. With this territory comes an enormous amount of risk. In most cases, the probability of you being wrong is much higher than the probability of you being right. Sir Ken Robinson once said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” It’s absolutely true. Everyone is placing bets on how the future will turn out. Without an appetite for risk, you won’t even get to play the game.

Please describe how the concept for your solution came about, and what research, information, inspiration, etc. informed it.: 

The current state of the app ecosystem can be likened to the early days of the web. In the 90’s, many search engines wanted to give structure to the web, so they created a directory of sites. Sites had titles, descriptions, and metatags. Users browsed the directory like a catalog or searched it using very basic keywords. Then Google came in 1998 and introduced PageRank. Google said the web already has an underlying structure. “Site A” links to “Site B,” which in turn links to “Site C,” and so forth. What one site says about another is important. This was a revolutionary idea. By understanding the interconnection of these sites, Google created a much stronger search that ranked sites based on their relevancy to specific search queries. Larry and Sergey once said, “One day, anytime a question comes to mind, you’ll just Google it.” Many laughed and asked, “Why would we search when we can just browse.” We saw how that one played out.

*Directory Model vs. Search Model


Today, we see a parallel pattern in the app ecosystem. Apps have titles, descriptions, and metatags. Users primary discover apps through categories, top charts, and hand-curated lists, only using search when trying to find an app by its title. In contrast, Quixey believes that search should be the primary form of app discovery. Just like websites, apps inherently have natural structure. “App A” is being discussed all over the web, in review sites, blogs, social media, news, etc. Every mention of “App A” can be treated like a hyperlink. This app may also use various APIs and lives across multiple platforms. Quixey refers to this structure as the Functional Web. By understanding this structure, we are able to build a search that is far superior to any currently on the market.

How did users think about and try to address the problem or opportunity addressed by your solution, and what might have prevented them from understanding their needs in the way you have?: 

Users have been conditioned to find apps using categories, top charts, and hand-curated lists. All of the app stores are designed this way, using search only as a secondary means of navigation. Because of this model, mobile analytics company, Adeven, predicted that over two-thirds of the App Store has never been downloaded:

“The reality is there are only a couple of thousand apps that really make some kind of downloads,” says Christian Henschel, Adeven CEO. “This is based on Apple’s closed system - it’s tough to discover those kinds of apps. You don’t have proper search, so the only way to discover new apps is through the top listing. If you’re not on those lists, it’s not sure that you’re being discovered by anyone else.” (http://gigaom.com/2012/07/31/app-store-infested-with-zombie-software-cla...)

The developers who make it into these lists are typically large companies who spend into the millions to do so, making it virtually impossible for small, independent app publishers to get their apps noticed. This problem is not unique to the App store. Similar problems exist in Google Play, the Windows Phone Store, and the Blackberry Store. As a result, users are completely unaware of two-thirds of the tools and functionalities in existence that their phones could potentially utilize.

Users have come to misunderstand the app space largely because the app stores have misunderstood it. All these stores have app search in one form or another, yet their search performs poorly. Why is this? One of Quixey’s big breakthroughs was to reclassify the app as a first-order object. App directories, like the App Store or Google Play, only see the tip of the iceberg. Angry Birds (Free), Angry Birds Premium, and Angry Birds HD are all fundamentally the same app, yet they are treated by app stores as separate objects. In fact, Angry Birds on Android and Angry Birds on iOS are also the same app. Different platforms are nothing more than different access points to the same app. Even some blogger’s article about Angry Birds is a part of this concept of Angry Birds. This underlying structure, which we call the Functional Web, has important implications. Imagine a mother who writes a review on Google Play that reads, “My 3 year old daughter loves Angry Birds!” Another user then searches the query “games for my 3 year old.” That previous review would be a highly relevant piece of data for this search but would be completely invisible to all other app stores other than Google Play. Furthermore, Angry Bird’s developer, Rovio, would never explicitly write in their description, “This is a great game for 3 year olds.” Because Quixey gathers data from such a wide range of sources, we have the most fundamental understanding of each app’s functions.

*Quixey's App Data Sources

What effects have the paradigm change introduced by your solution had on people’s lives, businesses, etc.?: 

Developing a strong app search will ultimately benefit everyone within the app ecosystem. Users could better find the apps they need among the wealth of apps in the stores. Developers, big and small, would have an equal opportunity to reach users and sell their value. Even app stores would benefit, as people use their smartphones more, increasing overall traffic and download numbers.

Recent years have also seen an increased number of local businesses building apps. These apps could never compete with the Facebook’s and Instagram’s of the world, because they were only ever intended for the local community. These apps could not possibly reach enough download numbers to make it onto the top charts. An app search that takes a user’s location into consideration would allow for greater discoverability of small but highly relevant local apps.

What was required to promote user awareness, comprehension, and adoption of your new solution?: 

Educating a new behavior that is not currently common among users is always an uphill battle. It’s important to integrate the educational components of your product intuitively into the natural user flow. We have experimented with using tutorials and coachmarks as educational pieces, but found that users frequently skipped these in their eagerness to experience the product. You have never read the user manual for anything you have ever bought, so why expect that your users would start doing that now? As a general rule of thumb, we only resort to tutorials and coachmarks when all other UX options have been exhausted. The key is to educate the user at the moment in time that is most contextually relevant.

The most difficult user habit Quixey has to face is that users are accustomed to searching by app titles and basic keywords. We see too many cases in which users simply give up on a search when they cannot recall the app’s title. To combat this problem, Quixey displays sample searches when the user taps on the search bar, which inspires users to search phrases they would not have otherwise thought possible. Some examples include “use offline navigation,” “find wines to pair with my food,” and “motivate me to run.” We even designed a separate feature called Sample, which includes a full list of these sample searches. Many of our users have told us how much they have enjoyed browsing apps by functions rather than just by the app’s title and icon, both of which can often be cryptic. These design elements, while subtle, signify the most fundamental premise of our product: that users should be able to find the tools they need simply by describing what they want to do.

When all is said and done, the best way to teach a user how to use your product is simply to have them teach themselves. I leave you with one our favorite user stories. One day, one of our advisors walks into our office and asks, “I heard about this app that tells you when to pee during a movie so you don’t end up missing the best parts. Have any of you heard of it? I can’t remember what it’s called.” We were dumbfounded.

“Why don’t you try it on Quixey,” someone suggested. None of us knew what would turn up. Using Quixey’s search bar, our advisor types this exact query: “when during a movie should I pee?” Loading… loading… loading… and voilà! The first result on the screen was RunPee, which described itself as an app “to tell you the best time to run and pee during your favorite movies without missing anything important.” If you can create an experience like this one for all of your users, they will never forget how to use your product.


Android App Product Page: https://www.quixey.com/androidapp.html

Quixey on GooglePlay: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.quixey.android

Quixey Website: https://www.quixey.com/