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Brandan Lennox's

Bread and Milk and Bloat

I’ve been using Jim Holloway’s Bread and Milk app since I first got my iPhone in August. It’s a shopping list, and it did everything I needed: when I think about something I need, I put it on the list, and when I buy it, I take it off the list. And most importantly, the list is always with me because my phone is always with me. Dead simple, almost Unix-like, until version 1.2.

Bread and Milk 1.2 added a cost-tracking feature. Each item now has a unit price attached, which would be awesome if the grocery stores offered some API so Jim could grab current prices on all these items — but they don’t. You have to type in the prices by hand, and that coupled with all the variability in pricing anyway — weekly sales, manufacturers changing their prices, by-weight items when you don’t buy an exact weight, prices differing between stores — it makes the “cart total” all but meaningless. Worst of all, it required an extra tab at the bottom of the display whose only purpose is to display the cart total. Big fat waste of real estate.

I wrote Jim to give him some feedback, and he told me that so many people had asked for cost-tracking that he felt railroaded into adding it. Then he warned me that he’d probably be adding another tab to support e-mailing your shopping list to yourself!

[I]t would enable printing a hardcopy of your shopping list as well as providing a sort of ‘poor-man’s’ backup, Jim said. I say, Why the hell do you need a hard copy? It’s on your iPhone, that $300 piece of glossy plastic that’s in your pocket right now.

This is exactly what 37signals has written about again and again. People always feel like their apps need to do more, that the only metric of an app’s progress or value is how many features it sports. We developers need to learn how to tell them to piss off without sacrificing their business. Especially in the world of mobile device apps, simplicity is the name of the game. Usability and performance in mobile apps are affected by bloat much sooner than they are on PCs.

I’ve incriminated Jim quite a bit here, and that’s not my intent. He replied to my first e-mail within a couple hours, and he made it clear that he wasn’t happy with these new features but instead felt forced into implementing them. And I’ll keep using Bread and Milk because in spite of the extra visual clutter, I’m slapping my forehead a lot less than I used to.