Lessons Learned From An App Graveyard

Guesstimates by analysts put the number of mobile app downloads this year at somewhere between 56 and 82 billion, with the average user downloading somewhere between 26 and 41 apps, with a smaller subset of those apps being used on a regular basis.

Lesson 1: Validate The Need For An App

Don’t stretch Apple’s catchphrase “There’s an app for that” too far — not everything has to exist as an app. A recent study (PDF, 2 MB) by Compuware found that smartphone users prefer mobile apps to mobile websites, but other research shows organizational strategy shifting away from native mobile apps towards Web experiences. If your content and functionality can be better served to users through a responsive website or Web app, then you have no real need for a native app. While native apps can easily use a device’s capabilities, a few features, such as GPS, can be used by websites, too.

Couple that with offline storage and many websites can do whatever their native equivalents currently do. Visitors to Kansas City can easily do everything they need to from the VisitKC mobile website, instead of downloading and installing the dedicated app, which is now in my app graveyard.

Lesson 2: Make Sure The App Works As Expected

This one might sound like common sense, but you would be surprised by how many apps do not work as expected or end up crashing (see the image below), often after an update — and that’s not just from personal experience. One- and two-star reviews in the App Store often complain about just that. Look at reviews of Apple’s own Find My Friends or the beautifully designed alarm app Rise — when apps do not do the one thing they are supposed to do, users will stop using it or will use a competing app instead.

Staples’ app had problems authenticating users and would repeatedly lock users out of their accounts, even though the same credentials worked on the website. And the flight-tracking functionality in United’s app frequently does not work, although it works just fine on United’s mobile website, as shown below.

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