Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 4 Pillars of Mobile Apps

With about 14 bn app downloads from the iPhone app store alone, one thing is obvious - the market for Mobile Apps is here to stay. Gartner estimates the total mobile app downloads since 2008 to reach 185 bn in 2014. It is becoming increasing important for marketeers and product managers to understand the basic things that make a mobile app successful.

Here are the 4 pillars which are crucial to create a successful mobile strategy for any company. I am not explaining any of these in detail since that will take several long posts. The objective of this post is to give you some Food For Thought - what to think about when you decide on your mobile app strategy??

1) User Experience and Design

The small screen real-estate makes this one of the most important thing for a mobile device.

This starts from a high level overview - understanding the main features for your target user, using metaphors for design and creating the main app flow and the side flows - to getting into very specific details like managing user data entry well - should it be a keyboard or keypad or scroll wheel/ picker? When will the app sue swipe v/s flick v/s pinch? What alerts, action sheets, tool bars will be used? Apple HCI Guidelines explain some of these very well. Here are some more details.

2) Application Performance

This is the software that runs the app. Most crashes of app happen due to mismanaged memory. It is important to ensure the iPhone memory is managed properly. What features work when the app is offline? What information needs to be cached - when the app is pulled from the background v/s when a new instance is charged? How important is data security? Do the API calls need to be asynchronous? There are many more such questions which need to be answered to help create a great performing app.

3) Monetization

The decision to make the app free or paid is a difficult one, yet very important to an app's acceptance in the market. With the new trends of Freemium apps, this becomes even more confusing.

Options - Free always!! (with or without ads) OR Freemium with in-app purchase for subscription or lite version OR Freemium with in-app purchase for virtual goods OR Paid

Some things to consider - how do you compare to competition? (If you are far better then you can charge a premium provided you have some marketing budget to get the word out there and to make the app viral). Is the app more for a branding experience and hence needs to be free? Is your user base big enough to make adding ads sensible? (tip: If its not, don't spoil the user experience for a few dollars everyday)

4) Analytics

Last but not the least, this is the feedback loop to track your app success. What are your engagement and retention metrics looking like? How many new users are you adding? How many sessions and what is the session length? How many repeat users do you have? What demographics does your app cater to? How do these metrics compare against those for competition? With companies like Flurry, this process has become less complex than what it seems. Read more on the need for analytics here.

Feel free to post any questions you have on this.

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