We are at the fag end of 2017, and the global app ecosystem has grown bigger than ever. The phrase ‘there’s an app for that’ (coined by Apple Inc. in 2009) has become more than literally true – with multiple apps existing for the same core purpose…for delivering similar values to end-users. According to reasonable estimates, close to 198 billion applications will have been downloaded this year - with the Android platform notching up ~91 billion downloads, while the iOS app download count hovering around the 26 billion mark. By 2021, we will be looking at more than 350 billion app downloads in a single calendar year.
While the app industry seems all bright and filled with opportunities, there is a primary point of concern – in the form of ‘app fatigue’. In layman’s terms, this refers to the sheer tiredness, and resultant unwillingness, of general people to download and use new apps. In the United States, nearly 66% smartphone-owners download a grand total of ZERO applications every month, while a further 17% download one or two applications. What’s more, 85% users regularly use only 4-5 apps (even when they have 30-odd applications on their devices). These are not great stats for third-party app developers, among whom the competition levels are also immense (there are ~500K Apple developers, and a jaw-dropping 970K Android developers at present). As 2018 rolls into view, we present some handy tips for both developers and smartphone-owners to overcome the ‘app fatigue‘ challenge:
(for app developers): Consider the security features and permission requests
With tasks of critical nature being increasingly performed through mobile applications, concerns over their security and reliability have been – understandably – increasing. Most users also typically keep an eye out for the permissions that an app requires and the type/extent of data it has access to. If an app has to be regularly updated for retaining its functionality, that can also be viewed as a hassle. App makers need to focus on creating software that have robust security assurance, and do not need too many permissions.
(for app users): Avoid downloading apps for experimentation
In the United States, a typical mobile-user has 27 applications installed in his/her device (this figure has remained relatively flat over the last three years). While that seems pretty much reasonable, it won’t be difficult to find people with 150+ apps, stretching across 7-8 home screens, installed on their handsets. For these users, the phone often feels unnecessarily cluttered and clogged up (apart from the device running short on storage capacity). It’s high time smartphone-users stopped downloading every new app that hits the stores – simply to check it out. Browse through the apps available, find out the ones that would fit your requirements the best, and get them only.
(for app developers): Take advantage of the new Apple and Android updates
As the worldwide app market gradually moves towards maturity, developers need to start thinking out-of-the-box, for tweaking the app-usage experience for end users. iOS app developers can easily take advantage of the all-new subscription-based model for users, as well as paid searches, to drive more business for their products. The revenue-sharing option on the Apple platform can also be rewarding. On the other hand, the arrival of Android Instant Apps earlier this year has revolutionized the scenario for those working on this platform. Indie developers as well as third-party app companies can now allow users to check out a section of an app’s functionality directly from mobile web – without the latter having to actually download the application. It’s a handy way of giving people a first-hand preview of an app – and if they like what they see, downloads will happen.
Note: The cost-per-install (CPI) figure for developers has jumped significantly over the last few quarters, and currently varies in the $5-$10 range.
(for app users): Be ruthless in deleting what you don’t need
App fatigue has got a lot to do with app overload. That, in turn, comes from the general tendency of keeping applications that are hardly ever used on the device. Over time, the number of such uninteresting and unnecessary apps begin to accumulate – clogging up the display and eating into the phone memory (on Android, maybe the SD card memory). There can be occasions when you download an application, only to find that it isn’t quite what you were looking for (or it isn’t efficient enough). In such cases, get rid of the concerned app immediately, and look for an alternative. A smartphone should ideally have only those third-party apps that will be used.
Note: In general, do not have duplicate apps (i.e., apps for the same purpose) on your handset. A probable exception to this can be on-demand cab apps, though.
(for app developers): Go for the best possible UX
Irrespective of whether it’s a B2B or a B2C application, a seamless blend of functionality, ease of usage, and design optimization (visual appeal) should be present in any mobile app. It is of utmost importance for developers to make the best use of the available resources – including innovative technologies like speech-recognition (on the lines of Siri and Google Now), artificial intelligence and machine learning. Keep track of all the latest developments in the app development tools and frameworks, and consider how your existing apps can be further improved. In addition, mobile app development experts have to make sure that their software has smooth device-specific capabilities (i.e., can optimally utilize the features (say, camera) of the device it is installed on). Human-centered design (HCD) is what you should be aiming for.
(for app users): The importance of mobile web
By 2014, mobile apps had pulled ahead of mobile web in terms of popularity. Even so, at a time when many users are facing problems due to ‘app overkill’ – it would be a prudent option to check out the mobile web version (if available), instead of downloading the app straightway. Right from banking sites to online shopping portals abd news portals – most present-day websites are responsive, have fluid designs, and are generally user-friendly. Users can give them a try – and more often than not, they can perform tasks without having to download ‘yet another app’. Mobile apps are more convenient and have higher adoption rates – but mobile web is not dead, and it should also be given a chance.
(for app developers): Be wary of front-end fatigue
(for app users): Check out the mobile app ads
The total expenditure on mobile advertising globally stands at ~$144 billion at present. By 2020, this figure would swell $247 billion. Problems arise when this money gets wasted – when users do not bother watching the ads, and making an effort to understand what the main features (USPs) of a new app are. Instead, they frame an idea about the qualities of the app under question – and whenever these expectations are not fulfilled, ‘app fatigue’ arises. Users need to be patient enough to watch the app ads, to get a reasonable idea on the nature of the application – and the requirements it has been designed to fulfil. This will prevent them from indiscriminately downloading (and uninstalling soon after) a large number of apps. Ads are displayed on any digital platform for a purpose – and it’s high time we gave them some time.
(for app developers): The need for efficient app marketing campaigns
The Apple App Store has more than 3 million apps (including games). Over 3.3 million apps are available for download in the Google Play Store. In order to gain visibility in an already overcrowded app marketplace, the importance of coming up with smart marketing strategies in general, and app advertisements in particular, is immense. Provide genuine, updated information about your mobile application (highlight the ‘gaps’ it can bridge) – and avoid overselling your product (for instance, with exaggerated info). Apart from being informative, mobile app ads should also be interactive – prompting the users to do something on playback. If a person can simply mute his/her phone and set it down when the ad is displayed – that’s an opportunity lost. Engaging, informative, and interactive – these are the chief qualities of a good app advertisement.
Note: App ads need to be relevant and personalized as well. A recent Fiksu report has shown that apps with irrelevant, annoying ads are often uninstalled immediately.
10. (for app developers): Integrate deep linking in apps
Deep linking with the help of Universal Resource Identifiers (or, URIs) can be particularly useful for enterprise applications. The average employee in the IT sector regularly use more than 10 apps on their handsets - and things become a lot more convenient for them, if there are deep links in an app, for navigating to other applications (or moving to other sections of the same app). There are several platforms available for integrating deep linking in apps (Deeplink.me is a good example). Complicated in-app navigation is a frequent cause for app-abandonment – and deep linking can go a long way in solving that problem.
11. (for app developers and app users): A change in mindset
Most developers focus only on the total download count/number of installs for their new applications. While these figures are important (early downloads boost the chances of an app getting featured in stores) – in the absence of a proper, end-to-end app analytics system, these metrics make little sense. It might very well happen that a new and promising app is downloaded by many people – who then detect a major flaw in the app’s functionality – and as a result, the app gets removed from most devices. The mindset of professional app developers has to change – from simply counting downloads, to factoring in the feedback received from users, and planning improvements on the basis of them. Apps have to be FOR and ABOUT users…if the latter are unsatisfied with a software, it is doomed (whatever the early download figures might be).
Speaking of mindset changes, the increasing availability of freemium apps and games are making the average user less inclined to spend money on mobile applications. The onus lies on developers to make use of the freemium model to drive revenue for themselves – without hampering the user-experience in any way whatsoever.
12. (for app developers): Create apps that deliver value
Candy Crush Saga is an insanely popular game. However, the same cannot be said about its hundreds of clones (almost similar match-3 games). Avoid being a copycat, and put your attention to conceptualizing apps that would deliver something unique…something better to the target-users. There has to be a primary functionality of an app (‘easier banking transactions’, ‘football on the go’, ‘karaoke fun’, etc.), which: a) can be used in the promotional pitches for the app, and b) would appeal to end-users. Do not try to pack in too many features in a single app. That would only end up confusing people.
Note: As a rule of thumb, the simpler it is to use an app (which has important value proposition(s)), the higher is its chances of becoming successful.
13. (for app developers): The need for Mobile App Management (MAM)
Researches have shown that app fatigue can cause considerable loss of employee productivity at workplaces (the time required to install new apps, research about their features and going through their security features can take up a lot of time). To tackle this issue, dedicated ‘app containers’ can be created – from where the app deployments to the employees’ devices would take place directly. Apart from taking away concerns over installation and app-security, such container-based MAM can handle app upgrades, regular monitoring requirements, and data safety standards. Enterprises need to make an attempt for reducing the number of work-related apps people have to use – and MAM is a more than viable option for that.
14. (for app developers): Customized versions for different platforms
Contrary to what many believed earlier, a mobile app is NOT an watered down version of a website. Software development is certainly not a field where the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach works – and the onus lies on third-party developers to determine the platforms/devices that their apps will be usable on – and then create separate, customized versions of the software (e.g. for web, mobile, tablet, etc.). With wearables in general, and smartwatches in particular (2.7 million units of Apple Watch were shipped in 2017 Q3) growing in popularity – developers have to come up with compatible versions of apps for these smart devices. IoT (Internet of Things) is growing fast – and the techniques of app development have to keep pace with it.
15. (for app developers): Do away with unused features in apps
Generally, app updates are all about either bug-fixes or adding new features. However, getting rid of the features of an app that are hardly ever used is important too – for removing distractions in the path of the final users. Precise focusing of apps also increases overall engagement levels. Once again, the presence of a reliable, real-time app analytics system is essential, for finding the usage rates of the different features of an application (i.e., behaviour of app users). Depending on the likely interaction by a user, and the device(s) (s)he is using, the UX of the app should be modified.
Note: The importance of cross-device continuity and functionality is also going up. A person should be able to launch and start using an app on one device, and finish up with it on another device.
App fatigue stems from two channels: the tiredness of general users with too many apps, and the tiredness of developers churning out similar apps repeatedly. In the US, there has been a 20% dip in the download-count of apps developed by the 15 biggest app companies – clearly indicating that this fatigue is not a myth. The good thing is, the ‘app fatigue’ is avoidable, and can be managed – both by developers and end-users. Mobile apps are here to stay…and the app industry will only get stronger in the foreseeable future.