iHobo v’s iMutt

I downloaded the iMutt app for Dogs Trust last week. I was amazed to see how similar it was to iHobo. Yet not nearly as controversial. I enjoyed the app, and my wife who is a dog lover really enjoyed it.

I thought it was interesting how Dogs Trust had replicated the iHobo app. I didnt get to use the iHobo app so writing a comparison of the two (which I wanted to do) was going to be hard.  I came across a great post by  Jesús Villanueva on the humanising technology blog. They won’t allow me post the complete article here, but here are some of the key points that I thought were most relevant.

iHobo sitting down, having a sandwichiHobo

iHobo was an app commissioned by Depaul UK, the biggest youth homeless charity in the UK. The app places a homeless person in our iPhone, and we are in charge of taking care of him for the following 3 days. The application was created with the intention of raising awareness about homeless teenagers, normally ignored by passers-by, and to raise money for the charity.

Due to the success of this application, Dogs Trust commissioned a similar application, called iMutt, where we have to take care of a rescued dog for 5 days.  iMutt was also created to raise awareness about abandoned dogs and to raise money for Dogs Trust.

iMutt screenshot, showing our dog in a gardeniMutt

In the article Jesus feels that iHobo is actually a better app, meeting the goals set out, because of the user experience. He goes on to say that:

Although a human being definitely needs more than this to survive, iHobo includes three different actions to take care of a homeless person: providing him with a sleeping bag, food or some change for his occasional expenses.

Screenshots of iHobo and iMutt presenting the different actions that can be performed on the subject

On the other hand, our dog in iMutt needs a little bit more care. We can feed it, play with it, walk it, train it, love it (!) or groom it. Some of these actions have to be done at certain times of the day (like walking and feeding it), where others can be performed at any time (playing or loving it), unless it is sleeping, of course.

We may consider that a dog needs more “maintenance” than a person due to the number of actions that are available in each app, but this is not entirely correct. Actually, iHobo takes advantage of the technology offered by the iPhone to perform extra actions. If we tap on the homeless person we will be actually “tapping” on his back to show our support, and if we open the application, which is usually running in the background, the character will appreciate us dropping by to see how he is doing. iMutt doesn’t exploit these actions as much as iHobo, relying exclusively on buttons to interact with our dog.

Although it could be seen as a minor detail, this difference is the tip of a bigger problem. Whereas the interaction with the character is intimate and credible in iHobo, it feels mechanised, less natural on iMutt.

Again, I didnt get to use iHobo, but I certainly would have felt that the interaction with iMutt was a little mechanised. I know when I groomed the dog, I kind of felt like I would have liked to see some grooming!

When we look after our virtual homeless friend we deal with him, directly. The actions we can perform are placed above the character, and when they are tapped, his reaction is presented right away. When we receive a notification from iHobo because our friend needs help (and that will happen quite often), we can reach him with a simple tap on the app. We can even “tap” on his back to show him our support. However, our pet is tucked away in its own area of the app. We need to go to an extra menu to see our dog, which can be seen as an extra barrier between the user and the pet. Once we get to its kennel, feeding, playing or training it is done through a pop-up menu of actions. Also, some of these actions produce a clear reaction from the dog (feeding it, playing with it) but the reaction to others is not meaningful (grooming it, loving it), removing any interest in performing them again.

Jesus goes on to talk about the gameplay, again here I would agree that it wasnt all that demanding. I felt my life would be interrupted more if I actually had a dog.

Regarding the gameplay, we can go through the five days that it takes us to finish iMutt just launching the app twice a day to perform all of the actions. It becomes a routine, a nearly automated habit. Instead, iHobo’s gameplay lasts three days, but it is a demanding one. The character will ask for attention at anytime, which can be quite common taking into account the difficult situation he is going through. Failing to attend to him can have severe, even fatal consequences. We are consequently given the responsibility of saving a person’s life, whereas our virtual pet can be “withdrawn” from us to be given to a more responsible carer.

Overall, iHobo manages to immerse the user into a real-life situation through a simple but effective interface, whereas iMutt follows a more traditional, productivity-oriented app design to deliver a less intense experience. The former has also managed to gather comments on iTunes that are either largely negative or largely positive (see iHobo’s page on iTunes Preview), with the latter receiving positive reviews but in a far smaller number (see iMutt’s page on iTunes Preview). This difference in the amount of feedback received is also perceived on the Internet. O

However, raising awareness about a cause is only one of the goals these applications try to achieve. The other one is raising money for a cause. Again, both applications follow different strategies to gather donations. Let’s see how.

Finally he concludes that:

iHobo and iMutt are part of a new generation of charity apps where users are placed in a richer, more immersive experience, compared to older “news and donate” apps. This interaction is used to educate and engage the user, using this connection to better relate the user to a cause, to raise awareness and to raise funds.

iHobo is a prime example. It was (and still is) able to create controversy and to generate polarised opinions by giving us the responsibility to look after a homeless person for three days. A unique user experience combined with a simple and straightforward interface has helped DePaul UK communicate the difficulties young homeless people go through and how hard it is to help them. iMutt has tried to replicate the experience to raise awareness about abandoned dogs. However, the core experience presented in iMutt is more mechanised, less intense game, positioned more as a marketing tool instead of as a unique experience.

These apps (especially iHobo) show how the principles behind persuasion andcollecting donations can be applied not only to websites but also to mobile apps. However, the strategies defined for one specific platform may not be directly applied to another, as iMutt shows. Theoretical principles should be translated into practical guidelines through a deep understanding of the platform, leveraging the tools it provides and taking into account its limitations.

I think overall the apps are great. I was a big fan of the iHobo app (which a lot of people complained about) even though I didnt get to use it. I enjoyed iMutt, my biggest complaint was that there weren’t enough push notifications (which came through as barks) and when I tried to donate I couldn’t.


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