Will You Try My Paper iPhone App?

I see a lot of demos for a lot of apps. Today, in particular, I sat through a dozen back-to-back demos for startups launching at Disrupt next week. Some of them really blew me away. But none of them quite compare to the unexpected demo I got after my long day when I walked into a Palo Alto CVS to buy some toothpaste.

As I was waiting in the checkout line, a very polite Stanford college student named Parth Bhakta asked me if I would be willing to test out a prototype for an augmented reality mobile app. I was tired, but I am a supporter of higher education.

When I looked down at his hands, however, instead of an iPhone, he held a few pieces of paper with wireframe drawings in pencil. This was his app. I was supposed to pretend the paper was an iPhone screen and press the hand-drawn buttons as I shuffled through the flow. The idea is that you could point your camera at a magazine rack and get digital versions of the magazines, which you could preview on your iPhone and then purchase individual articles or the entire magazine. It made a lot more sense when he did it (see video).

Now, there is nothing wrong with getting your ideas down on paper or paper prototypes to work out the kinks before you start coding. But you might want to wait until you have an actual working app on an iPhone before testing it out in the wild and asking for feedback from normal people. To be fair, Bhakta was only following his assignment, which was to make a paper prototype of an app that could enhance the experience of standing in line and test it on potential users. So I blame his professor for sending him on this hapless mission. (There is really no way to test an iPhone app on paper, the buttons don’t do anything). The best part: the course is called “Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction Design.” I didn’t want to break it to him, but he was missing the computer part.