The app market is one of the most competitive in the entire technology industry. Customers have millions of options at their fingertips, prices are low, profit margins are thin, and the smallest flaw or missing feature can take your app from being the best of its kind to being lost within a sea of similar competitors.
The majority of mobile apps to fail to meet both their builder’s expectations and their own potential. Mobile apps don’t always fail in the same way, but there are some surprisingly common, predictable patterns for ensuring app failure. If you follow these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to a mediocre app launch, low sales, underwhelming reviews, and skeptical customers.
Tip 1: Ignore Your Competition
There’s an abundance of business advice that suggests that entrepreneurs ignore their competition. The thinking behind this advice is that studying your competition stifles creativity and indirectly leads to emulating your competition. While this may be a winning approach for other businesses and industries, the barrier to entry into the mobile market is so low that it’s been flooded with low-cost apps for virtually every niche. Thus, within the mobile app market, ignoring your competition and forgoing proper research is more likely to cause the emulation of competitors (through pure accident) than prevent it. Placing your competition out of mind doesn’t mean that they no longer exist; if you want a truly unique product, you won’t ignore your competition, you’ll study it carefully and distinguish yourself instead.
Tip 2: Gather Input From Developers Only
You’d be surprised how differently developers and ordinary users view the same exact experience. App designers will approach an app very analytically, while ordinary users hope for technology that is so seamless that the content itself takes the spotlight and the app itself is barely noticeable. Developers might “bloat” an app with unnecessary features that add more complexity than utility, and those features might stick around and make the final version if the app doesn’t undergo the critique of average users.
Simple apps are often successful apps. While developers might subconsciously choose the “more is better” approach, many mobile apps could be improved by the removal of unnecessary features, increased simplicity, and the scrutiny of average users who have no technical expertise.
Tip 3: Rush To Release
An app could be considered nothing more than an investment of time, talent, and effort. Many marketers are fond of saying that “timing is everything,” but many veteran investors would say the opposite — that “time is more important than timing.” There is rarely a situation where releasing a flawed, incomplete app at a certain time would yield better long-term results than releasing a polished, complete app a little later. If you truly must meet a firm deadline, make sure that the benefits of perfect timing outweigh the risks associated with a rushed release.
Tip 4: Rely on Your First Customers for QA Testing and Debugging
“Early adopters” of a new mobile app are typically very tech-savvy, very demanding, and very critical of new app releases. If you count on your first customers to find bugs, critique your interface, test the efficiency of your design, and essentially provide quality assurance, you’ll be sure to get loads of valuable feedback.
Unfortunately, that feedback will be in the form of prominent, public, often-scathing reviews of your application, which will likely advise prospective users to steer clear of your new app. The cost of these negative reviews is hard to measure, but it’s likely that putting real resources into quality assurance is far better than spending all of your credibility on a few painfully public bug reports.
Tip 5: Use Boring Branding and Generic Copy to Make Your App “Invisible”
The lion’s share of time and resources are usually dedicated to the design and development of the app itself. As a result, marketing and branding efforts are often left as last-minute afterthoughts. Not surprisingly, these messaging efforts will suffer from a timeline that’s too tight and resources that are already dedicated elsewhere. If your app is being rushed to release (see tip 4), or you have no idea who you’re competing with (see tip 1), your efforts to distinguish your app and gain exposure will be even more challenging.
Using words like “time-saver,” “handy,” and “usable on the move” will not distinguish your app from any others; all mobile apps are inherently portable and convenient. To beat the odds and have a successful app launch, you need to focus on what makes your app unique and distinct from any other, and you need to make marketing and messaging a truly integrated part of your app building process.
Failure is far too easy in the mobile app market. Many developers pursue a quick pathway to launch and stumble through the same common hurdles. There are definitely advantages to careful timing and launching the first app of its kind, but compromising a complete development process often make the rushing a risk not worth taking.
Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, once said that “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” If there weren’t tens of thousands of half-baked, unsuccessful apps across all major mobile app markets, it would be hard to argue with him.
Do you have any common app launching mistakes to share? Do you feel that early versions of apps are inevitably flawed, or do you believe in the possibility of a perfect 1.0 release?
Peter is Chief Digital Officer of CuriosityStream, a multi-platform nonfiction streaming service by the founder of Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Animal Planet, etc.). Peter is also Co-Founder of True North, a management consulting firm and digital marketing agency with clientele that includes WebMD and Salesforce.