Nobody has truly made a huge business out of online scheduling–yet. But Swiss scheduling app Doodle, which launched in 2007, currently has 18 million users in Europe, and 7 million in America. The app was acquired in 2013 by Swedish media giant Tamedia, and Doodle’s new CEO Michael Brecht has been charged with expanding into brand-new markets. He especially wants to grab the 312 million Americans who aren’t using Doodle yet, and convince them to give it a whirl.
Since Doodle launched, it has had only a handful of real competitors in the scheduling app category, Brecht says. Doodle’s biggest rival, Tungle.me, was bought by RIM in 2011, which fully absorbed the app’s staff; the app itself died in 2012. Because no super-powerful scheduling app competition has cropped up in the U.S., Americans are making do with calendar apps like Google Calendar, Sunrise, and Cal, which require lots of manual out-of-app scheduling and coordination. Trying to reach a consensus with more than a few people requires cumbersome email chains and wonky event invites. It’s kind of terrible when you think about it.
In an attempt to capture American users, Doodle just released a retooled app with both free and premium versions for iOS (an Android edition is due in June/July). The guts of the app haven’t changed. Doodle believes that it doesn’t need to load up its simple app with more features, but it did realize it needed a face-lift to better appeal to U.S. users.
It’s not the most beautiful app we’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely an improvement over the previous version. After studying successful American app designs, Doodle knew that its redesign would need to appear more emotional and charming than its three-year-old app’s current look, says Brecht. Look beyond Microsoft’s dry app-globalizing tips and you’ll find that cultures are attracted to wildly different visual arrangements: for example, the Dutch version of the McDonald’s website is sparse and clean while the Chinese version is packed and full of high-contrast color, as a blog post by Dutch UX design firm Usabilla demonstrates. The new Doodle app moves away from a more utilitarian look in favor of a smoother, brighter design.
The free version is pretty simple. Doodle integrates contacts from your other apps and lets you ping your friends or colleagues when you want to schedule a get-together or meeting, so they can vote on a place and time. This is a much easier and less annoying way to coordinate schedules than long email chains. Doodle also features an internal chat mechanism, which means users don’t have to switch between the scheduling app and group text messages or email chains if they want to discuss the event together.
“We really stick to a specific niche,” says Brecht. “We’d rather be No. 1 in one thing than try to be a master of too many dances.”
The best part is that the tool works even if a Doodle user invites a non-Doodle user to participate. With a few taps, users can open up a multiple-choice questionnaire and share it via link or directly via email–no sign-up required to participate.
As it stands, users in the U.S. have participated in roughly 4 million Doodle “polls.” Curiously, Doodle has far more personal than professional users in Europe, about an 80/20 split, respectively–but in America, it’s almost exactly opposite, with only about 20% of American Doodle users using the app for personal scheduling. Brecht’s theory is that the app’s previously spartan Swiss and German look has encouraged Americans to use it for business rather than pleasure–and he hopes that the redesign will encourage more people in the U.S. to use Doodle socially.
The real difference between personal and professional use lies in scale of use. It’s easy to see who you need to follow up with if only three people haven’t responded out of a 10-person poll–but when a big company sends out a poll request to 100 employees to decide where to host a corporate picnic, it’s a pain to figure out who has and hasn’t responded. That’s where Doodle’s premium paid version comes in: It automatically reminds those who haven’t responded to weigh in. Other features in the $5 premium version will be added soon, Brecht says.
Expanding to America is Doodle’s top priority, but Brecht has his eye on other markets–particularly Brazil, a massively populous country of 105 million people with an emerging smartphone market. While China has a far larger population, Doodle won’t have to do as much work to localize for Brazil, since its app is already available in European Portuguese (and since users write Doodle polls themselves, Doodle doesn’t have to worry about translating the grammatical differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese). When Brazil hosts the 2016 Olympics, Brecht hopes Doodle will be in a prime position to capitalize on all of the scheduling activity that a three-month spectator extravaganza requires. But to help with the nuances, Doodle has contracted a local agency to explore how Doodle can best appeal to Brazilians. Whether or not that will require another redesign is unclear.
Doodle’s new design isn’t a knockout. But with no real competition, technology that has been refined over its eight-year life span, and a respectable user base, it has a fighting chance of becoming more successful in the U.S.