As we move into 2017, we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth: fewer people are downloading and using apps. 49% of users download no apps at all over any given three month period; of the remainder, 95% abandon their downloads within the same 90-day span. Retention – always a key performance indicator for app developers – is becoming a serious concern.
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Does this mean that apps are out with 2016? No – but it does mean a sea change in what’s needed for successful app design. By looking at the most popular apps, those which buck the trend and keep their retention figures high, we can identify their strengths and learn exactly how to adapt and grow.
Move away from single functions
Messaging platforms are far and away the most popular apps in the world, with billions of active users. And while messaging apps will always outperform other niche apps due to their social nature, the fact that functionality is so varied is also a huge draw for users.
A good messenger app is more than just a glorified text messaging service; it includes functional photo, video, voice and emoji options for one-to-one or group chats. It offers a rich variety of media in which to message – multiple functions for the same purpose. And this flexibility is already expanding.
Apple’s newest iOS for smart devices, for example, reaches out into individual apps, bringing some of their functions into ‘baby app’ widgets that run from the home screen.
For users, this means a smoother and more streamlined experience which doesn’t rely on them opening individual apps – and the fewer steps we put between the user and their desired outcome, the more likely we are to retain them.
These ‘baby apps’ also throw into question the doom and gloom stats quoted at the top of this article. What are they actually measuring? If you use an app every day but don’t actually open it, does it show up as an abandoned app? We don’t have the answer, but we suspect not.
Either way, the challenge for app creators in 2017 is to understand what users want to do and offer them the best, most effective and engaging way of doing it.
500 million Chinese users sent money via messaging apps during 2016’s Chinese New Year. Doing that with a Western messaging app – Facebook Messenger, say – involves a move out of Messenger and into something like Paypal, often a login and confirmation step, and a return to the app the user actually wants to use. The architecture of ‘Eastern’ messaging apps allows them to host services like money swapping without the cumbersome processes to which we’re used. Again, it’s about streamlining the user experience.
The best apps of the future will be able to piggyback on functions that exist in operating systems and near-universal apps like Facebook Messenger. These apps will be able to use chatbots, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and location tech such as beacons to offer a range of experiences within a single platform.
Emergent technologies tend to move through a ‘hype cycle’. There is the initial wow factor of a new technology as developers explore the possibilities, and early adopters jump on board. This is followed by the peak of inflated expectations as early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures.
Then, once the barrier to entry drops for designers, developers, entrepreneurs, marketers and the like, unimaginative offerings become prevalent, the wow factor is lost the bubble bursts and public opinion falls into the ‘trough of disillusionment’.
Apps are currently passing through this tough period: they’ve been around long enough to lose their novelty, and there are enough bad or simply boring ones out there to taint the rest by association. Exploring possibilities and pushing the limitations of apps will move them into the ‘slope of enlightenment’.
This is a gradual improvement of public perception, and a return to engagement and retention, brought on by new developments which directly address the most disillusioning aspects of apps. In other words: if we make our apps smooth, functional and multi-functional, they’ll survive and prosper while others continue to decline.
Despite the seemingly precarious state of apps, the bell hasn’t tolled yet. If anything, this is a natural stage in the development of app technology – and the next step has to focus on quality – of user experience, of design, of marketing, of functionality and of purpose.
2017 will see the end of some apps, certainly. But the great thing is, developers will have to up their game to win back confidence from the public. And for heritage sites, this means a focus on what they do best: provide a stunning experience.