Ecosystem: The Main Reason New Apps Fail

When developing a mobile app, it’s easy to get tunneled into a particular use case. Having the perfect app idea is one thing, but being able to execute it and is quite another. However, too many product teams get tunneled into the thinking that their app should do everything for users. Instead, a successful app keeps in mind that people use apps for various features, being able to be part of the ecosystem is what makes it successful.

Center of the World Mentality

So, what is this center of the world mentality?  It is a combination of the following tenets:

Emotional Reasoning

“I feel that my app is important, therefore other people will feel it is important.”

“I feel that my app is more valuable than other apps, therefore other people will feel the same.”

Selectively Biased Feedback

“My friends and family said that my idea is great, therefore it is great.”

“I had my friends test my app and they loved it!”

The Illusion of Demand

“My app is really easy and cool to use! How can anyone not want to use it.”

“My app provides some value for a particular use case, therefore everyone who has that use case will find it valuable.”

“I got my family, friends, and direct connections to download the app!”

Ignoring the Ecosystem

“My app works perfectly in the lab and my beta testers love it! Therefore, everyone who uses it will love it.”


App Ecosystem Usability Mobile Apps Justin Baker Context

Social Ecosystem

Applications that ignore the greater societal ecosystem will inevitably fail. Instead, your app needs to mesh with the broader ecosystem – this means growing and thriving from its environment, not get eaten up alive.

Your app may work wonderfully when you force a group of individuals to test it in isolation. The true test, however, comes with getting user feedback.

Real World User Feedback

The purpose of real world user feedback is to assess how your application will survive in the wild.

Contextual User Testing

Have people use your application for one month as part of their natural daily behavior.  Do not even force them to use it and don’t require feedback.  Do not even tell them how long the test is for.  This seems a bit strange, right?  However, what you are doing is assessing the true value your app is providing in the context of the person’s daily life.  In other words: would they use it if they were not forced to?  Why or why not?

When you are ready for feedback, then you can ask them how often they used your application (and why or why not).  Combine these qualitative insights with quantitative metrics and you have yourself some very meaningful data.

Embrace the Ecosystem

Modifying human behavior is extremely difficult. When you are designing an application, consider what applications and services your target audience is already using.  How will your app complement their existing behavior?  How will you make it better?  How does your app fit into this ecosystem?  What existing ecosystem dynamics can you harness?

Use Over Time

Ideally, you want people to habitually use your application for an extended period to maximize the app’s lifetime value.  Admittedly, no startup wants to test something for 6 months to know whether there’s any market traction. You just simply don’t have the time.  However, you can get proxy feedback by seeing how similar apps have been used over time.  This is mainly a qualitative assessment of how apps within your ecosystem have fared over an extended period.

Product teams that avoid tunnel vision will learn to embrace their app’s broader ecosystem and not deny it.  Yes, once every few years, there will be a game-changing app that modifies the ecosystem at large.  Odds are, this won’t be your app.  However, what you can do is use the ecosystem to your advantage.  Design and build solutions that feed off emergent trends, but do not forget that these trends are constantly in flux.

Your app may be your baby, but it is not my baby.  You can love it, nurture it, and post it everywhere, but that will not necessarily make me more likely to adopt it.  I am a person who uses a certain bundle of apps and behavior every day that make up my daily live.  Make sure that you understand my constraints (my ecosystem) before you expect me to adopt your product.

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Written by:
Lead Product Designer at LaunchDarkly | Heavybit Ind | 500 Startups Justin has over 10 years of experience at the intersection of design and development, particularly in the startup world (from early stage to series A). He is a tennis playing design aficionado who loves creating intuitive mobile and web products. He holds degrees from UC Davis and USC, with a UX certification from NYU. In his spare time, Justin is completing his M.S. in Application Design at Northwestern, harnessing his studies to solve LaunchDarkly's data design challenges. Aside from design, Justin enjoys computer games, collecting rare rocks/minerals, and volunteering.
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