Monday, November 14, 2011

Thoughts on Mobile Apps

As part of my usual Monday routine I check Luke Wroblewski's site for his "Data Monday" post. This is often a source for little nuggets of information that spark thought for me. Today Luke considered Mobile App Usage and reading over the statistics gave me a bit of a pause, and made me look at how I use apps on my phone.

Some of the more telling stats:
  • 38% of adult mobile users have downloaded an app (as of August 2011) (Luke's original source)
  • The average iOS owner will download 83 apps in 2011 (Luke's original source)
  • Only 68% of adults with apps actually use them (as of May 2010) (Luke's original source)
  • 26% of all apps downloaded are only opened once and 48% are opened between 2 - 10 times and then abandoned (as of March 2011) (Luke's original source)
  • 38% of Android & iOS users stick with an app for 1 month, after 12 months only 4% are left (Luke's original source)
  • 51% of mobile owners use a handful of apps once a week. 31% use 6 or more and 17% use no apps regularly (Luke's original source)
  • The Top 10 Android apps account for 43% of all time spent by Android mobile users on apps, the next 40 account for 18%, which means the Top 50 account for 61%. (Luke's original source)
I looked at this in light of my own app downloading and usage behavior and realized that many of these numbers ring pretty true for me. I download a lot of apps. They are almost always free or offered as the free app of the day on Amazon. Some of them are admittedly "preemptive" downloads, that is, they fall into the "I better snag this while it is free because it might be useful someday" category. 

But, I only use a couple apps with any frequency. Most are left alone until I decide I am tired of getting update notices for them and or need space and uninstall them. 

So, what does this mean for all of those brands and companies out there that are certain they "need an app"?

Mostly I think it means, no, you probably don't. Now don't get me wrong, some of these numbers can be deceiving. After all the mobile market is pretty big and as we all know 38% of a really big market is a lot of people. However, every brand or company that is considering (or feeling compelled) to jump on the mobile app bandwagon needs to consider the fact that in all likelihood a small percentage of their target audience will download and use their app more than 10 times.

This all leads me to the following thoughts/questions for stakeholders:
  •  Is your proposed app essential enough to the day-to-day life of your audience to displace one of the handful of apps they use weekly? Remember 69% of people use fewer than 6 at least once a week.How many are going to be willing to add one more?
  • Are you committed to an iterative development/release cycle on your app that adds features and continues to excite/surprise your clients/audience? This is how you maintain long engagement with your app.
  • Could the level of engagement, brand awareness and exposure you are seeking be accomplished better in other ways? A web site redesign/refresh using modern techniques like responsive design that accommodates all devices (desktop, laptop, mobile, tablets, etc.) could be a much better investment for most people, right?
  • Is your business directly transactional in nature? Business like banking and retail (especially where customers have accounts they need to manage) can benefit from a native app, however, again, much of what they will want to do could be handled on your web site if it was well designed and worked on multiple platforms.
So to sum up, yes mobile is growing and will continue to. There will continue to be app success stories. But it is also a fact that app marketplaces will continue to be flooded and overcrowded with apps no one downloads, and most of the rest are only used a handful of times. 

You have already spent a significant amount of time and marketing budget to convince your customers/audience to visit your web site on a regular bases. Hopefully you have also given them significant value for doing so. My advice then is, leverage all of that effort and investment by creating a functional, high-value web presence than can be used easily on multiple platforms.