More than a decade after the iPhone popularized mobile apps, the sector shows no signs of slowing. Industry researcher App Annie predicts that by 2020, the mobile app market will be worth $189 billion — nearly three times its value in 2015.
Where is all that growth coming from? Although both app store revenue and in-app advertising are on the rise, App Annie found, the ad portion of the pie is growing faster than that of app sales. By 2020, however, both buckets of revenue are expected to exceed their combined 2015 total.
Clearly, users and advertisers alike still see plenty of life in mobile apps. With that said, users have little tolerance for low-quality apps. A Compuware study showed that just 16 percent of users will open a subpar app more than once. That means companies that want to get real ROI from their apps have to plan for it.
Top App Development Mistakes
It shouldn’t have to be said, but “build it, and they will come” isn’t a smart strategy when it comes to mobile apps. If you want your app to find fans, be sure to avoid these top app development mistakes:
Failing to plan for retention
Before writing a single line of code, ask yourself: What’s going to keep users coming back to my app? Although many app developers love to look at downloads, the best indicator of your app’s success is monthly active users. Frankly, most apps don’t score so well on MAUs. Across all industries, 57 percent of users churn within the first month, while 71 percent move on from the app within 90 days.
So what’s the best way to encourage retention? Consider how Cie Digital, a corporate innovation accelerator, did it with Pilot/Flying J’s customer loyalty app. Realizing that consumers have their choice of gas stations, Cie Digital turned to gamification. Users earn rewards when they take certain actions, such as buying fuel or reserving a shower. “Gamification draws in users faster, keeps them engaged, and encourages them to return,” explains Justin Choi, Cie Digital co-founder and head of product strategy. “Seeing the finish line and the progress they’re making toward it keeps users going.”
Skipping the prototyping stage
Tempting though it might be, trying to go from the drawing board to a fully functional product isn’t a good idea. When Yeti struck out to build a seek-and-find virtual reality game called Tiny Eye, the app design and development studio went through multiple concepts before finding one that aligned hardware, software, and user needs.
Although some leaders might be embarrassed to admit to a trial-and-error process, Yeti president and founding partner Tony Scherba sees it as a must for meeting customer expectations. “If we’d stubbornly continued after our misfires, the product never would have succeeded. Whatever your lightbulb is, prototype it until it burns bright,” he urges, pointing out that Thomas Edison tested more than 6,000 materials before finding the perfect one for his light bulb’s filament.
Prioritizing the wrong platform
Those without app development experience assume that porting a mobile app between iOS and Android platforms is as simple as pushing a button. In reality, it’s almost as much work as building the app from scratch.
The question, then, is which platform you should build for first. Although you might think Android is the obvious choice, given that it claims 61 percent of the U.S. mobile device market, the decision is much more complex. The most important consideration is your user base: iOS claims an outsized share of young, affluent users, such as young professionals; Android, meanwhile, makes the most sense for male users in up-and-coming markets.
Your second consideration should be your timeline: Apple’s App Store is notorious for rejecting apps, thanks to its manual review process, while the Google Play Store rarely rejects applications. If your preferred platform requests changes, remember that those could take weeks or months to make.
Building every side feature under the sun
You might think that adding more features to your app could only improve it, but you’d be wrong. One reason Apple’s once-beloved iTunes lost its most loyal users is that it turned what was once music-specific software into a “jack of all trades, master of none” mess. Although the tech giant has started to pare back the bloat, the damage to its user base is already done.
Instead of making side features the main event, focus on your app’s primary use case. Ian Blair, co-founder of mobile marketing agency BuildFire, views this as one of the trickiest business decisions of mobile app development. “Boiling all your ideas down to one or two sentences of clear purpose is hard,” Blair admits, “but it’s also one of the core steps to ensuring the success of your app.”
Mobile apps may not be new technology, but they’re more popular than ever. That doesn’t mean, however, that every app will be a hit. Those that succeed are planned and tested rigorously, wound tightly around their use case, and built to keep users coming back. It’s a tall order, to be sure, but the alternative is a one-and-done mobile app.