Guest author Sean Bowen is CEO and co-founder of Push Technology.
App marketplaces have exploded. Apps have taken over as the preferred destination of mobile users, who now spend 86% of their time on them, compared to just 14 percent on websites. The numbers suggest that dedicated mobile software offers the most optimal way of engaging users.
That is, as long as the app performs well.
Mobile applications have come a long way since 1998, when a mobile version of the classic video game, Snake, arrived. Preinstalled on Nokia 6110 phones, the app had users navigating a “snake” of monochromatic, blocky pixels on their screens. Now apps will need more than that to carve out a permanent place on home screens. They’ll have to contend with a long list of consumer expectations.
Here are six priorities app developers should focus on.
1. Win the Performance Race
In the world of mobile apps, speed sells. On-the-go users don’t want to wait for apps to load or updates to install, and they don’t care if an app’s sudden popularity creates a bandwidth bottleneck. They just want it to load quickly and work smoothly.
In worst-case scenarios, users simply delete poorly performing apps. In fact, according to a survey by Compuware, 59% say they would drag an app to the trash if it’s too slow. Others find ways around the app—for instance, some savvy Facebook and Twitter users find that the websites often outperform those apps on speed and performance.
2. End Wild Goose Chases
When it comes to app design, less is more. Often times, apps that have been praised for their design are laid out logically and simply, and they perform how users expect them to. When users click on a menu, they have a reasonable idea of where they will end up, without having to guess where to find what they’re looking for.
It’s critically important that developers get the design right. According to an EPiServer poll, as many as 47% of users will delete an app if it’s too difficult to use. That’s exactly what many iPhone users did back in 2012, when the iOS 6 software came equipped with a “disaster” called Apple Maps. The app was so difficult to use and inaccurate that it even spawned the Tumblr page, “The Amazing iOS 6 Maps,” which collected screenshots of Apple Maps glitches. Many iPhone users turned to Google Maps and then stayed there.
3. Keep The Same Experience, No Matter The Device
Some users spring for in-app purchases in a tablet app—like a new game character or extra features—only to find that the upgrade doesn’t carry over to the same app on their phones. Or they start listening to a podcast on an iPhone, only to waste time on the iPad version to find where they left off.
A user should be able to easily jump back and forth between different versions of the same apps on different devices, without feeling like they are starting from scratch. Unfortunately, these types of performance problems are only going to become more prevalent and frustrating for users as more people switch between multiple devices. In fact, Cisco estimates that there will be 1.4 mobile devices per person by 2018.
Switching devices should be easy—like changing lanes on a highway. You may be in a different lane, but you’re still on the same journey. App users crave that same type of experience, and it’s up to app developers to ensure that the user journey stays consistent across devices.
4. Banish Count Appula
According to AVG’s CTO Yuval Ben-Itzhak, “Apps are what make a phone, but they’re also what break it.” There’s some truth to that. Apps create millions of different experiences for users, but that potential can be wasted if they’re “vampire apps.”
Vampire apps eat up battery life, rack up data charges and dramatically impact overall device and app performance. Users can take steps to mitigate those effects. They can reduce data usage and battery drain by turning off location services or by using Wi-Fi instead of mobile network services whenever possible. New apps like Normal, which crowdsources information about how apps deplete battery life, also help. But ultimately, it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to make up for these failings.
App developers need to find ways to minimize data usage and streamline processing to improve performance and battery life.
5. Remember Murphy’s Law
If an app’s function doesn’t perform as expected, users will be sure to zoom in on it. Some will complain about it to friends. Others will give the app a one-star review or even delete it altogether.
Let’s say you have a car rental app. It displays all available vehicles’ make, model and year in a beautiful map of your surroundings. That’s all very helpful—but what if, because of unreliable network connectivity, the app can’t actually book it? Or a glitch stopped the confirmation email from coming through, leaving you unsure if the request was received. Sounds like a fairly minor failure, but it leaves users with no confidence in the app.
6. Play Nicely with Other Apps
The apps with the richest performing experiences don’t stubbornly trap users in one environment. Instead, they interact with each other, so users won’t have to duplicate their actions or zigzag between stock apps—even if they do roughly the same thing.
For instance, Instagram users are probably happy that they can have all of their pictures automatically saved to the “Photos” application on their iPhone. They can apply Instagram filters before posting it on the network, or share the original, unedited versions with friends who don’t use Instagram.
Strong app performance isn’t just about how an app functions in a vacuum—app developers have to think about how their app fits into the larger ecosystem, as this is how users will derive true value.
If you could send a new iPhone 6 owner back in time to 1998 to play Snake, he or she wouldn’t describe the game as fast, easy to use, responsive, interactive or compatible with other apps. But as technology has evolved, so, too, have user expectations.
For developers to live up to them, they need to understand that optimal app performance hinges on how well data is managed on the back end. If app makers need to think about how they can apply intelligent data distribution to make apps more lightweight, they can ensure that the data traveling across the network isn’t redundant or out-of-date.
The backend is invisible to users, so they may not know whether apps are designed using intelligent data distribution. But they will notice when apps don’t perform as expected.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock