Is an app right for you?
Just as it’s a web developer’s job to convince you of the value of a website, it’s an app developer’s job to convince you that you need an app. How do you know when you’re being sold a valuable piece of the online puzzle for your business, and when you’re just being sold a bill of goods? In a recent article we touched on the issues inherent with a proliferation of apps. Today we’ll take a closer look at the data and discuss the good and not-so-good reasons to develop an app.
The Truth About App Use And Retention
We’ve all read the headlines: non-browser apps are dominating mobile usage, while mobile web use continues to decline. Meanwhile people are spending more people on their mobile gadgets and less time on desktop and laptop computers. Yahoo’s Flurry tech blog ran an analysis of mobile app usage last year, and the numbers seem pretty dismal: less than 14% of a user’s time is spent in a browser, while the other 86% was spent in apps. The writing seems to be on the wall for the web, goes typical reasoning in the tech press; apps are where it’s at.
Not so fast! Let’s take a closer look at these numbers and what they mean. What apps are people using, and why?
A whopping 32% of that average 2 hours and 7 minutes per day, or about 41 minutes, is spent gaming. This shouldn’t be too surprising – mobile games are getting surprisingly good and attracting more and more of our attention. If you’re making a casual game – puzzles, cards, action, or strategy/builder – a mobile app is a great platform. Let’s add that to the list of good reasons to develop an app.
The next-largest slice of the pie is Facebook, weighing in at 17% or about 22 minutes per day. It’s pretty clear that if you’re Facebook, you should definitely devote resources to app development! Let’s expand that a bit by bundling together Facebook, Twitter, other social media, and messaging tools into one category: social media and communication. It adds up to 28% of the total. If you’re building a social network or communication platform, the users have spoken: they want to use a mobile app, not a website, to do it. Add that to our “good” list.
After communication, the next largest category is entertainment and media – Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other media streaming services, plus Flipboard, Pocket, and other popular news readers, adding up to 11% of the total. Anyone who has spent some time on a smartphone can tell you native apps are a much better way to watch TV, movies, and online video than a mobile browser, and that having a single app to read news and blogs is more convenient than wrestling with a long list of mobile browser bookmarks. The question is not whether an app is the right choice here, but whether you need to develop your own app if you’re providing this kind of content.
The answer: probably not. If your streaming media is hosted on Youtube, Vimeo or a similar service, your users already have a great way to watch it: in the app those streaming services provide. They also already have a favorite way to consume your articles: one of the many excellent news reader apps available on the market. Unless you’re planning to develop a competing video streaming service or a news reader, you should probably assume your users already have a preference and focus on facilitating it. We’ll add this to the “bad” list.
Utility & Productivity
Utility and productivity apps take the next 8% and 4%, respectively. This includes your credit card and banking apps, note apps like Evernote and Google Keep, PDF readers, email, etc. as well as handy tools like flashlights, calculators, maps, quick references and other apps that leverage the hardware capabilities and ubiquity of smartphones.
When it comes to productivity apps, users tend to prefer native over the mobile web. A mobile app lets you leverage the user interface and design aesthetics they’re used to on their mobile OS, meaning a well-designed app creates less cognitive load from task switching (the confusion that arises from changing gears to deal with different user interface conventions like the location and shape of buttons and navigation).
Peter-Paul Koch at the popular web development blog Quirksmode concedes defeat in this arena, and we agree: if you’re developing a productivity application, a native mobile app is a big part of your strategy and should be the default way you reach your mobile users.
So what’s left? That nebulous “other” weighing in at 8%. If you’re not making a game, a communication or streaming media platform, or a utility or productivity app, this is you. Let’s take a look at why an app is probably not a good fit for you.
The Cutthroat Business of Mobile Apps
Most of our customers come to us help them reach visitors with information about themselves or their business, and many are confused as to whether a mobile application or a mobile-friendly website is the right choice. The truth is that the mobile app market is extremely competitive: attention spans are lacking, screen real-estate is in short supply, and a phone or tablet can only store so many apps. If you’re in that 8% “other” category, you’re competing with literally millions of other apps for very limited resources.
According to Mark Flavelle, a mobile analyst, fewer than 1 in 7 users keep an app for more than one day after downloading it, and the numbers are getting worse. If you want users to install and use your app to get at your content you have to grab their attention early and hold on tight. A responsive website doesn’t ask as much: just follow a link from a search engine and you’re there. No software to install, no updates draining your battery life and mobile data, no icons cluttering your screen or app tray.
Furthermore, apps are far more expensive to develop and maintain than websites: in our own experience, ten to twenty times more expensive. The internet is replete with robust, mature content management systems like WordPress that cut out 90% of the work of website building, and the infrastructure for hosting websites is so vast and well-established that you can keep a website online for a month for as little as the price of a venti latte at Starbucks.
An app has to be developed almost from scratch, and is relatively expensive to host. Remember you still have to pay for all the bandwidth necessary to serve your app’s installer to each user, and you pay it over and over again as you push out updates. Latte-priced commodity web hosting can’t handle this, nor can it handle the more specialized services needed to stream content to many kinds of apps.
In contrast a website will take less bandwidth per visit and cache most of its code on the user’s device after the first visit, meaning subsequent visits are almost free. Browsers are very smart about this – if something changes on your site, they know how to grab only the new parts, saving bandwidth and shortening load times. Apps can’t do this; every time they’re changed the whole app has to be downloaded again.
If we did websites the way apps are done in 2015, only the financial elite would be able to afford one.
There are some compelling reasons to develop a mobile app instead of a mobile website. If you’re making a casual game or communication or productivity application you almost certainly want an app – that’s what your users expect out of their mobile experience. When it comes to content, your users probably already have a preferred way to get streaming media and news, and they don’t want to have to install yet another app to see yours. Focus instead on making sure your content works with their choice of app.
If you’re just looking to hang your proverbial sign and let the world know who you are and how to get in touch, which encompasses the vast majority of work we’ve done here at Mad Dancer over the past 20 years, don’t be one of the millions of also-rans in the “other” category, fighting for the precious few slots left in a user’s app tray. A website paired with a solid social media strategy is still the cheapest and most effective way to reach your customers.
Categorised in: Blog
This post was written by Mad Dancer