Usability vs Functionality

When developers work on an application, we tend to want to make it do everything that is technically feasible. We want to make everything to be customizable, update in real-time, etc… If you don’t control yourself and try to minimize nice-to-have features, you need really good UX to keep the user from getting confused or overwhelmed. Cramming every feature imaginable in an app without regard to keeping things simple is how you end up with Android. On the other hand, you are not doing your users any favours by keeping your application as simple as possible. Simplicity means fewer features. Features that would make your users’ lives easier.

There needs to be a balance between usability and functionality. I recently faced this decision while working on Outside Tasks. I want to make contexts automatically detect when they are active. The Home context is active when you are at home, the Calls context is active when you have your phone on you, etc… At first it seemed like it is a choice between letting users choose from preset contexts which will provide this functionality and letting users create their own which would let users create any contexts they want but they won’t have the automatic detection functionality. Then I thought what if I let users choose from existing ones which are not customizable (Home is always called Home) and let them create additional customizable ones. This is what Google’s Inbox does with bundles.

Finally, I had an epiphany. What if users can create whatever contexts they want and then they can customize when each context is considered active. After all, so far I only have two methods of detecting when a context is active: location, and device. Once the user chooses which method they want to use they can choose the specific location or device. This solution offers more power to users than either of the other solutions but the options seem simple enough that it won’t be confusing.

Is this the best solution? I don’t know yet. Good thing I’m dogfooding Outside Tasks and will know soon enough if there are any problems with my solution.