Your Mobile App: Helpful Solution or Burden on Users?


Mobile App Solution or Problem

Why are you creating a mobile app?

This isn’t another post debating the merits of native apps versus web apps. It’s a fundamental question about why you are set on investing a chunk of your marketing budget in a unique, customized mobile solution. 

Let’s take away the common, less desirable answers to why you need an app: CEO wants one. Competition has one. Your best customer needs it. Leading companies are doing it.

Let’s assume that you are building a mobile app because you believe, or better yet, did research to validate, that you can create something your target audience can use.

You want a mobile app to make something easier for the user.

As an advocate for the user, I support this. I strive for this every day. Create something easy, valuable, and enjoyable to use and it’s a positive user experience.

But are creating apps really the best way to do this? And if they are now, how can apps possibly be sustainable as the number of mobile devices continue to proliferate? As the technology continues to change and the expectations of users shift just as quickly. Meanwhile, we invest time and effort in creating an app, crafting this interface, one brief touch point in a user’s interaction with a company, while the other experiences are neglected.

Will doing this one thing right make a difference with your audience? Build credibility in your product? Increase brand loyalty? Will it get you even one step closer to turning an unknown into a prospect, let alone a prospect into a customer? 

Will it even make something easier for the user?

The reality is apps aren’t easy.

They require effort on the part of the user. To discover them. Go to a store to find them. Download them. Organize them. Remember that they have them. And continue to update them. Or, more commonly, delete them having never been used after the initial download.

Here’s a look at what app marketers are up against:

  • There are now well over a million mobile applications in both iTunes and Google Play stores.
  • People only use about two dozen apps per month. (Tech Crunch 2014)
  • A Nielsen Smartphone study reported that there may be an “upper limit” to how many apps users will engage with each month.
  • 90% of apps are downloaded and never used and eventually deleted. (Digital Trends 2014)

At best, your app survives in a sea of icons and endless screen views. But your easy, valuable solution still requires the user to do so much to get to that point. And the more and more apps there are, the harder it becomes for the user. And for you as marketers. Soon, for every website users visit, stores they shop in, product they use, there is an app. How much interest must a user have, how much brand recognition or loyalty must there already be, for your app to break through? Better design, ease of use, valuable service, it all matters in an app. But only if the timing is right, and your app is there when the user needs it and wants to interact, is it worth investing so much.

And while apps multiply and demand to be found by the user, the web is always there waiting to serve. Accessible but trapped in a browser and by its limitations. Difficult for the user in another way, disappointing on their mobile device or limited in interactivity. Or not even usable is your site isn’t mobile optimized.

Some say mobile apps must die. And that the web needs to be set free. Not just responsive web design but released from the browser. Able to interact just-in-time.

It's not about apps or websites. It's about solving problems.

I say it’s not about the apps or websites. It’s about solving problems for users. And realizing that your first guess at the solution, the thing everyone is doing, or says you need, probably isn’t the right solution.

What is the real problem you are trying to help your users with? Start with the idea of an app. A mobile website. And then imagine a better way.

About the Author

Jennifer Leigh Brown
Executive Planning Director, Digital

I create digital experiences that are easy and engaging by understanding users and their goals.


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