02/19/2013 06:21 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

Kickstarter App: Finally, Almost [REVIEW]

By Noah J. Nelson (@noahjnelson)

It's no secret I'm a big fan of crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular. As such I have waited, perhaps a bit impatiently, for Kickstarter to unleash a mobile app into the world.

Today they finally did just that, and while the app has visual panache there's a lot that's been left out of the design. If this was a mobile website there would be much to rejoice. Instead it's an app, and as such is a bit anticlimatic.

The details, after the jump.

The Good

Until now Kickstarter on the iPhone has just sucked. Completely. Go view the a Kickstarter project in a mobile browser. It's just the regular website. "Not ideal" is an understatement here. What works in a browser window rarely works on a phone screen.

The mobile app fixes that and then some. Projects are completely reformatted for a slim column view. The pitch video is even more important in this format, as the project description is hidden away behind a "read more" cut.

The backer rewards follow the short description and the pertinent details: who's project this is, how much are they trying to raise. All the usual stuff. The main difference here is that it is actually legible, as opposed to the website on a mobile device. This is how the basic Kickstarter experience should be on a phone.

Two clicks and the user is pushed to Amazon to complete the transaction, just like the main website. Here the app flips into a mobile browser mode. It is mildly jarring from a UX standpoint to be dumped out into a different environment to complete the transaction, but that's how it is on the native Kickstarter site.

For security's sake the app won't remember your password, but it will remember your username. This isn't too much of a hassle if you remember your Amazon password. If you're the kind of person who keeps a separate passwords for each site you visit, however, it may be a slight barrier.

One the transaction is completed there are prompts to share the backed project with Twitter and Facebook. The app hooks into iOS' native use of those services and after an initial granting of permissions

It's an almost frictionless experience from discovery of a project within the app to backing and promoting the project. The app is highly polished from a visual standpoint.

I even got a lot of kicks out of playing with the "color wheel" on the profile page of the app: it shows you the breakdown of the kinds of projects you've backed. The wheel is partially hidden, and animates into view with a pull. That kind of detail puts the Kickstarter app in the same UX playing field as some of the cutting edge iOS apps.

The Bad

There's still some work left to be done.

Clicking on a link sent via email or text message on one's iPhone will lead users first to Safari, where the "open this in the Kickstarter app" dialog now appears at the top of the screen. [This switch wasn't flipped at launch on the server side, and that meant for the first few hours links were still resolving wholly at the full website. A previous draft of this review was... well let's just say I didn't use all my nice words.]

Choosing to open the app, at least at present, merely opens it up to the last session, and not to the project in question. The user is required to search for the project inside the app, somewhat defeating the purpose of a direct link. This is a bug that Kickstarter will surely address. Something we will hopefully see in a matter of days, not weeks. Anything less leaves the basic mobile experience incomplete.

The Road Untraveled

I'm also disappointed by the lack of serious innovation in the app. Given how long it took Kickstarter to bring a mobile app to market I was beginning to expect some whiz-bang features. Instead I'm left with the impression that the platform is beginning to show signs of it's age.

Two paths not taken leave me wondering how much Kickstarter has up it's sleeve. Or if there is anything new up there at all.

* Location Data-- in "Discover" mode the app hangs a location arrow in the upper right hand corner. This will trigger a request to use location data and promptly give a more narrow list of projects in your area. Your area can be pretty broad, however. For film/video and publishing projects this isn't so bad... but for live performance the wide net is less compelling.

More granular location data would be a boon when trying to find arts projects in big cities like New York and LA.

* No Mobile Checkout-- The idea of a mobile project "point of sale" is one I've been clamoring for a while for now. After observing multiple projects throw live fundraisers that necessitated having multiple laptops plugged in it seemed like a "no brainer" that the next evolution of crowdfunding would involve a mobile app that enabled project creators to take donations right on their phone. That's a feature not present here, and may not even be part of Kickstarter's grand, and ironically very hidden, plan.

Kickstarter became a "great disruptor" in multiple marketplaces in the past few years. Mobile technology, however, remains the most disruptive force of all. What the company released today gives them a toehold in that space, but it leaves the door wide open for possible competitors-- companies that are not even in the crowdfunding game at present-- to eclipse the value proposition Kickstarter offers creators.

A mobile app that empowered creators and their most trusted supporters to become active evangelists in good old meatspace would be very disruptive indeed.

The Creator Side

Not having a project inside the Kickstarter marketplace, I was unable to test the creator features. The app promises to let creators post updates on their projects directly from the app.

That could be awesome, or it could lead to a host of spam updates. Time will tell on that front. At present the ability to get updates directly in the app, and thus create a separate headspace for Kickstarter in my digital diet is a far more compelling use case for the app than off-the-cuff updating from creators. That most project creators spend a lot of time thinking through what the updates are going to be I see as more of a feature than a bug of the site.

The Verdict

If you have even a slight curiosity about Kickstarter and an iPhone (or iPod touch) this is an app you have to download. If for no other reason than to see the spit and polish that went into the UX design.

Could the time and resources have been better spent converting the Kickstarter home site into a responsive website design? Probably.

Is this a platform that they can iterate on and maybe deliver some innovation in the near future? I sure hope so.

Originally published on, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.

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