September 1, 2014
If you had said the Facebook mobile app left something to be desired two years ago, you would find few people in disagreement. It was a slow, uninspired experience that failed not only to satisfy users, but also to make any money for the social media juggernaut.
Then, in 2012, Facebook realized it needed to revamp its mobile strategy and released a new and improved app with a pledge to focus on a more native experience. Now Facebook has more than a billion mobile users with more than half of its revenue coming from mobile ads — before, there were none. Those numbers are directly related to the shift in how it approached mobile development.
While Facebook could afford to be slow on the uptake when it came to mobile, most startups don’t have this luxury. Creating an app isn’t enough; you need to strategize for the future. Here are three key areas you can focus on to ensure that your mobile strategy will stand the test of time:
1. Go native
Creating a wrapper around your existing web app and releasing it in the App Store may seem like an easy way to appease customers and save money, but it’s a temporary solution that will only cost you more in the long run. The mobile world has different advantages and requirements than the web, and for many customers, your mobile interface is the only one they’ll see.
While the upfront cost may be greater, focusing on a native app from the start will save you the headache of finding out that your web app just isn’t cutting it. It’ll also improve your App Store reviews and entice more people to test it out. Your app should be a joy to use on the phone, not just an OK experience.
2. Listen to your users
When the interactive music service Turntable.fm first launched, it was a runaway success. Tech experts were raving about it, and users loved the communal experience. But nearly as quickly as it rose to fame, Turntable.fm’s popularity faded, and it finally shut down last year.
Al Harnisch, my colleague and Prolific Interactive’s product strategist, was an early adopter of Turntable.fm. Al noted that the service not only had a web interface, but it also had iOS and Android apps, funding, and a soaring user base.
“Many people would use the app for countless hours a day as their primary way to listen to music,” Harnisch said. “It was completely addictive, and the opportunity was enormous.”
But there was a major reason for Turntable.fm’s decline: failing to listen to its users.
“They wanted a more stable mobile app, better playlist management, and less restriction on what music could and couldn’t be played,” Harnisch said. “Instead, Turntable.fm wasted its time on bells and whistles such as virtual stickers and cosmetic improvements that failed to address the underlying issues.”
Even if an app is adored out of the gate, users will eventually notice what it lacks, and if your team isn’t prepared to take user input into account, you risk losing them.
3. Keep the checkout line
For shopping apps, a major pain point can be the checkout process. Either it kicks you out of the app completely, forcing you to complete the purchase through a browser, or it goes back to a web interface and fails to capitalize on the opportunities a native app provides.
Failing to develop for the whole purchase process is failing to collect money from willing customers. Offering to store credit cards for future purchases or track shipments in-app (complete with push notifications) can not only entice new customers, but it can also create repeat customers.
Mobile is no longer an afterthought, and it certainly isn’t something you can forgo. With the right approach, mobile has the power to transform your business and bring it more success than you thought possible. You just have to commit to designing for the future.
Bobby Emamian is the cofounder and CEO of Prolific Interactive, a strategy-led mobile agency headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in San Francisco, as well. A former college athlete, Bobby’s competitive nature and mix of technical, business, strategic, and managerial skills account for Prolific’s rapid growth in the mobile industry. Bobby and his team have worked with prominent companies, including ModCloth, Thrillist, Rent the Runway, Hewlett-Packard, and the NBA.
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