7 tips for a struggling app

Monday, December 09, 2013 by Richard Howe

It has been estimated that 102 billion apps will have been downloaded in 2013, 91% of these for free. Yet whilst some apps are downloaded by a large number of people, many of these apps are used only once, if at all. So what should you do if your app falls into this category? Here are some of the main areas you should be thinking about.

1. Is an app actually what you need?

Perhaps your app is failing to deliver the results you expected because an app wasn’t actually what you really needed in the first place. Good design is all about solving a problem and meeting a need. So before you read on, it would be wise to take a few moments to go back to basics, think about your main goals and whether an app is the best way to achieve these. 

If your primary aim is to improve brand recognition, generate revenue through downloads, enhance customers’ interactions with your company and so on, all without having to log onto their computer or use the internet, an app might be the right way to go. But if you want users to get the same kind of experience as your existing website delivers, a responsive website might serve your goals and your users better. 

As with all web-based design, forward planning is paramount, and usability testing and some background research will go a long way to finding out just what your users want and need.

2. Does your app work properly?

There is nothing that makes a user delete an app faster than if it simply doesn’t work. Common errors are the app freezing, the app not knowing what to do when notifications or GPS are turned off, the inability to cope with multiple clicks or the app inexplicably shutting down during use. 

By far the best way of avoiding any of these issues is to test, test and test again. Not just before you release the app, but after release too. 

Usability testing and attention to analytics will help you to understand just how users are interacting with your app and will enable you to find ways to evolve and improve the user experience.

3. Is your app easy to use?

The best apps tend to do one simple thing well. Your app should have a clear focus and goal, and this should be apparent to the user. There should be no confusion about what your app is for or how it works, and the interface and functionality should be intuitive – your user shouldn’t need to consciously think about what to look at or where to click. If your app requires instructions for use, make sure that these are easy to locate and as short and succinct as possible. 

Make life as easy as you can for your users and they will reward you with recommendations and brand loyalty.

4. Does your app load quickly?

First impressions count, and a successful app needs to be quick to load and allow your users to get into the main functionality as soon as possible. Annoying splash screens and automatic audio or video content with no ability to mute or skip are irritating for regular users and increase the likelihood of them finding an alternative app to suit their needs. Always design with your user in mind.

5. Is your app draining your user’s device?

It sounds obvious, but apps should not be an excessive drain of a device’s power, bandwidth or memory. When your users are out and about, conserving power is an important part of whether they will use your app or not, and this is frequently a complaint on app review and rating sites. 

Typical examples of this are apps which don’t minimise location capabilities, those which disable location updates when they’re not needed, and apps which behave identically when in the foreground to in the background. For tips on optimising your app’s performance, consult the Apple or Android performance guides as appropriate.

6. Is your app secure?

Safety and security are essential components of app design. If your users do not trust your app to maintain privacy, they will not want to share information and may delete your app completely. There are two main rules to follow: 

  1. Only collect the minimum amount of data needed to accomplish the app’s goals. Requesting unnecessary information from your users only serves to put them off, so don’t ask for data simply because you think it might come in useful later.
  2. Transparency is vital. Make sure that you tell your users openly why you need the information and how it will be used. Allow users to control their own data by providing settings for them to disable access to information if necessary.

7. Is your app up to date?

The very nature of apps means that they need to be updated regularly if they are to attract new customers and retain existing ones. Smartphone users can be a fickle bunch and are always on the lookout for the next cool thing, so staying up to date and keeping an ear to the ground for what your competitors are doing is essential to success.

The overriding rule is always to deliver what your user needs and wants (and ideally just a little bit extra). 

Considering the above points will help you to focus on the core goals of your app and understand whether it is providing the kind of experience your user requires. Don’t forget to keep testing your app, monitor your analytics and social media, and respond to customer feedback promptly and effectively in order to maintain consist high quality.

Paying attention to all these areas will ensure that your app not only provides a great user experience, but also remains current, useful and relevant.

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