“An unexpected consequence of our love of apps is that now there’s just too damn many of them.”
Thus begins Josh Constine’s explanation of why app installs are the Next Big Thing in mobile, but it feels like the wrong conclusion to the right data. It’s absolutely true that app discovery has become extremely difficult. As he writes, “unless your app is inherently viral, kooky, or great enough to inspire word of mouth, or you win the favor of the app store editors who choose who to feature,” you’re essentially invisible on Apple’s or Google’s app stores.
But the larger problem involves post-app discovery. That is, what users do with an app once they have it on their shiny new device.
A whole lotta nothing
After all, despite the billions upon billions of apps that have been installed, as many as 95 percent of them quickly find their way to the “app graveyard,” never to be used again. In fact, while the average smartphone user downloads 25 apps, by some estimates, 26 percent of apps are used only once.
In other words, the app install can’t be considered an end in itself.
Rather, the focus needs to be on the user experience. The few apps that I use on a daily basis (and there are very, very few) provide utility every time I open them, and give me a reason to open them regularly because they’ve become part of my life.
Most apps don’t, which is why, as VisionMobile survey data reflects, 24 percent of all developers make $0.00 from their apps, and 60 percent live below the “app poverty line,” earning less than $500 per app per month.
The problem is that it’s extraordinarily difficult to develop an amazing “unicorn” app on the first try.
Innovation is iteration
A far better approach is to incrementally iterate toward success, building upon tools and infrastructure that encourage app experimentation.
To do this successfully, you need to build upon data. That is, you need to understand how existing users interact with your app, and then start tweaking the experience to improve it.
Take Redbox, for example. As this case study describes, “Redbox needed to experiment with and continually optimize its web presence for both desktop and mobile devices.” Digging into the analytics, Redbox discovered that “searches on both desktop and mobile devices resulted in invalid or insufficient results on titles that were in the company’s inventory, or they were obtaining inaccurate information regarding title availability.”
Given that search accounts for half of all online transactions, spotting this problem was critical to then figuring out how to solve it.
Strong analytics also provides the foundation for mobile app A/B testing (perhaps using Adobe Target), whereby marketers and developers can experiment with different content or user interface (UI) alternatives. For example, one leading mobile retailer discovered that its original carousel approach fared poorly compared to a vertically scrolling UI that filled the screen with images. Switching the UI significantly increased sales through the app.
Other major brands use PhoneGap to blend the flexibility of HTML with the performance of native to provide an app experience that is easy to tailor after a user has downloaded an app from an app store. (Indeed, while we talk about the dominance of native apps, the reality is that almost all “native” apps include HTML technology.)
Plan to experiment
These are just a few ways that leading enterprises facilitate app iteration. For iterate we must. After all, even Rovio slogged through years of anonymity before striking gold with Angry Birds. The right way to approach mobile is to assume that failure is part of the development process, but to build upon a solid foundation that minimizes the cost and incidence of failure, and helps get developers and marketers to success faster.
At Adobe we can help with this. We have a robust, growing suite of mobile services that enable an iterative app development process. Please let us know how we can help.