Apps as Strategy – five years on

Our strategy is apps! Was the call of many an executive back when the app store was launched 5 years ago. In 2017 apps aren't the safe bet they once seemed.

As any product manager, UXer or designer can tell you. Apps are not a strategy. They are not a panacea to solve all your digital woes.

Fast forward five years

And many companies are shutting down their apps. Companies like Threadless.

Threadless app on iOS app store saying they are no longer supporting it

App usage is going down. Estimates suggest a reduction in usage ranging from 5 to 38%.

Getting users to use your app is hard. 23% of apps are opened only once.

Which begs the question, why?

Your app is competing with your website

There are a number of smaller reasons; Remembering passwords and logging in is a pain, apps getting lost on page 6, being buried in a folder, the name / icon not being easy to remember, etc.

But the main reason? It’s the good ol’ web.

The web solves many of the UX issues inherent in apps. Most browsers will remember your password. Website are more easily accessible, you can search for the problem you have rather than trying to remember the name of the app. Autocomplete when typing a URL. The list goes on.

Apps are hard to update

Which is why so many apps wither and die.

Various screens showing message this app may slow your phone and won't be supported in future versions of iOS

A user seeing that the last update was a year ago, the warning apple gives to 32bit apps, a long in the tooth UI, crappy performance, the list goes on. These symptoms lead to fewer new users and drops in usage which is hardly going to encourage investment in the app.

Progressive web apps are also more likely to be installed.

Although it started five years ago it’s still happening now. Witness the pointlessness that is the recently launched app from fruit drink company Ribena.

Ribena Doodle Your World app

And the dreadful reviews. This app was launched 1 month ago it will almost certainly wither and die.

App review of the Ribena app. Mostly are 1 star.

What does that mean for app teams

If you are working for app team you are effectively competing with your company’s website and so competing for survival.

You’ve got a challenge ahead of you.

If you haven’t got a compelling answer to this simple question: ‘What is the differentiator between your app and your website?’ then you are in trouble. Here a clue, the answer to that question isn’t ‘a native experience’, users don’t care.

You need to identify a compelling reason to use the app over the website. Functionality that matches a task a user needs to do that can’t be done on the web. Or done an order of magnitude better than the web. Both are reasons to have an app.

And if you can’t answer that question maybe it’s time to retire your app?


Also published on Medium.

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