5 secrets of app sustainability

By Deirdre Molloy

What percentage of apps for small to medium-sized projects and businesses are kept up to date?

Once you've signed-off the delivery of version 1 with your app developers, how many even fully work on the next Android / iOS [insert other platform] release?

If you start to get negative reviews or a drop-off in installs shortly after launch, do you ever feel haunted as to why you spent all that time, money and creative effort on the app in the first place?

What was the point if it's becoming dysfunctional a few months later?

If any of these questions ring a bell - or you feel you're on the brink of this precipice - you're not alone. But as the issue of app sustainability starts to hit home across the commercial, public and nonprofit sectors, some are already thinking ahead and mapping out solutions.

Unless your product is meant to be fleeting, here are some pointers for building app sustainability into your remit...

1. Understand app zeitgeist statistics

According to the Office For National Statistics access to the internet using a mobile phone in the UK more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 24% to 58%.

In the US, Flurry Analytics calculate the top app time was spent in games (32%) and Facebook (18%), then social messaging (9.5%) and utility (8%).

The most popular iOS app stats (US again), as collated on @appannie, bear out the same patterns in the broader usage landscape.

      Image: Flurry Analytics


Image: Flurry Analytics

Back at street level, where an eye on big analytics and sufficient marketing muscle is often absent, I've known arts projects who told funders they were aiming for 10K installs but after substantial effort crafting wonderful, usable apps, the results were in the low hundreds.

Given this helicopter view of what apps people really use, are your install targets and usage expectations realistic?

2. Bake in a forward mobile platform maintenance plan

"Perhaps the most obvious reason why you need ongoing maintenance... mobile is an ever-changing landscape.

iOS and Android update their operating systems most years and your app needs to change with them to make the most out of new features, hardware and designs.

More fundamental than that, with every update comes the risk that your app will simply break. An immortal app is just impossible and no one can predict what update will cause it to break. This is why you need constant eyes on your app to ensure it's still working at the very least."

Lifespan klaxon! Have you costed for this? Get the lowdown on app maintenance and more from the folks @Calvium.

3. Balance design and user costs with value delivered to prove ROI

Sounds tricky, but one analyst is making sense of this balancing act...

"Mobile apps, which demand bandwidth, eat battery life and devour data plans, are also generating costs that impact the businesses of mobile operators and the experiences of users everywhere on the planet.

How much do apps cost the ecosystem? And what can developers do to reduce the impact of their apps on the network while increasing the quality of the user experience they deliver?"

MobileGroove's Peggy Anne Salz looks at the app cost-value equation.

4. Get to grips with location and mobile marketing proximity

If your app has a locative dimension, you need to know what's worked and what hasn't before you set sail on your voyage of development.

This will stand your location-based efforts in good stead and help build traction. Take it from someone who’s been there:

"I first got into mobile marketing by way of joining a start-up called ZagMe back in 2000, with Russell Buckley, where we sent promotional text messages to shoppers at Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls (two of the largest malls in Europe at the time)."

Helen Keegan is one of the UK's leading authorities on mobile marketing and her lessons and comparisons across 15 years in this post's video are brimming with location, content, UX and commercial insights. (Helen's talk begins at 3m 15s.)

5. Test and optimise to ensure your app will hit the right notes

Kew Gardens launched their iPhone app in January 2015, but this was just the culmination of a long process of testing and development led by Jon Paul Little.

The app uses iBeacon technology at points around its Kew and Wakehurst sites to enhance the visitor experience by delivering content tailored to your location, offering (amongst other things) insights into the life of famous and little known plants, stories from the history of Kew and behind-the-scenes glimpses of how their scientists advance understanding of the natural world.

In this moreish series of blog posts Jon Paul shares their development and testing journey, which is still ongoing.

There's plenty to soak up on the challenges and subtlety of getting mobile app proximity and content right in a multi-site visitor setting that will resonate elsewhere.

We'll be running more DigitalFWD primers on mobile apps, so let us know if you've any suggestions for guest posts, or tips on things our round-ups should feature.

Deirdre Molloy is Head of Content at DigitalFWD and a digital media consultant. You can find her @deirdrenotes.