Published in May-Jun 2021
Are you ape or apt at apps? Try saying this super-fast for five minutes. If you Google it, there is probably an app to do something like this on the Play Store. As useless as this exercise may seem, there are apps out there that beg us to question why they exist in the first place; yet some are doing better than most apps made by serious developers. For example, Milk The Cow (MTC) is an app that, well... helps you do just that, milk the cow.
At first glance, you may question the sanity of the developers and the people who download such an app, but then one discovers that it has five million plus downloads and a rating of 4.0 on the Google Play Store!
Sit back and let that sink in for a second. In a world where 9,999 in 10,000 apps fail (this is a real statistic from Gartner, the global research and advisory company), despite having been backed by hard work and funding, this MTC nonsense got five million plus downloads! Yes, an app that literally puts the image of a cow’s udder on your smartphone screen for you to rub has a higher rating on Google Play Store than apps developed by Faysal Bank and Unilever’s Munchies (3.3 and 3.7 respectively at the time of printing).
No, you cannot argue that local developers are working for a fraction of the global audience, because I am not comparing the number of downloads (one million plus versus 100k plus for each one of the above-mentioned local apps). Instead, I am simply talking about getting a good rating even if you have 5,000 downloads. Having said this, both the local apps mentioned earlier are among the 0.01% that have succeeded, so congratulations to them.
We are, however, left wondering if the developers and people behind MTC are really crazy or are we, the marketers who are pushing the other 99.99% apps, missing something big. The dismal failure rate for apps is a disaster of huge proportions for a digital industry which boasts of being populated by some of the smartest people in the world. Well, as it turns out, all successful apps do have something in common and failure simply comes from a lack of rigorous homework. I have listed below the top reasons why apps fail to make the market for anyone brave enough to be thinking about development.
1 A Solution of Value: Every successful app is a solution to a problem. If it is not, it will be impossible to break through the clutter. You may ask what solution does MTC offer... well it solves one of the most important problems in a Covid lockdown environment – boredom. So think carefully and focus on a single important problem you can solve for your target audience and build everything around it. Apps that try to do too many things generally fail, so stay away from the temptation to be a ‘Swiss knife’ app. Munchies, for example, only tries to solve your snack cravings. Research is key in trying to figure out what problems exist that your app could deliver a focusedsolution around.
2 Copycats: The success rate of copycat apps is extremely low. If you are trying to solve a problem when a solution already exists in the app stores, then it is highly likely you will not succeed, unless you have a unique feature that will literally blow people away. Otherwise, somebody has probably already done it and done it better. For example, trying to create a health/exercise app would be a nightmare unless you have a unique idea, such as working with a celebrity trainer with a strong following who can help you draw in the initial downloads.
3 User Experience: Eighty to 90% of apps are abandoned after a single use, and in the majority of cases, because of an unpleasant user experience. A complex menu system, unfriendly navigation to reach points of interest and a clunky experience will make people to drop your app like a hot potato. There are in fact specialists who focus on just the UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) aspect of the development process.
4 Consider Developing for Both Android and iOS: A lot of developers focus on Android alone, because they feel that the majority of the market is Android. This could backfire enormously if your app does not have a feature that helps users connect with their peers; if Android users care about people who have an Apple device and are not able to share their experiences with them with your app, they are likely to find a replacement for your app. These days life has become simpler because of Cross Platform App Development Frameworks, which save time and money and help to develop products that are compatible with both Android and iOS.
5 Performance, Performance, Performance: I was part of a team which developed an app for a client in Karachi. From the beginning, it seemed clunky and riddled with bugs. Despite the marketing department raising red flags after initial testing, the client and developer went through with the beta launch. The app failed miserably and although they later fixed all the bugs, an average rating of 2.8 and a long list of poor reviews on Play Store sounded the death knell for the project. Rigorously test your app until it is stable enough to do a beta launch. Never hurry this step and always test your app with real users and not in-house people alone. Real users may attempt to navigate or use your app differently than how you intended it to be used. Additionally, offer regular updates to fix any issues as you discover them and have a strong social team to respond to negative as well as positive engagement.
6 Offer Your App for Free: The chances of a 100% paid-for app to be downloaded are extremely slim. The most successful apps in the world, from Facebook to YouTube, are free to download. This gives people the opportunity to try your programme risk-free. This does not mean that you do not make money off the app. For example, you can withhold advanced features, carry advertising or monetise in a hundred different ways, but by offering it for free initially you will remove a major barrier to downloads.
7 Have a Marketing Plan: Most people spend their entire budget on developing the app without realising that no matter how good it is, nobody is going to download it if they don’t know about it. For example, you would assume a bank app would get downloads automatically through its customer base. Look at the customer base of any local bank and at how many of them have a smartphone with Facebook on it and then look at what percentage of those people have actually downloaded your bank app… it’s usually a fraction of the audience. Like any product, apps need to be advertised in a cluttered market.
8 Feedback: Have an effective feedback system and a strongly enabled team that can act on the feedback. I was at the offices of a local online shopping app and they had inexperienced junior staff sifting through negative feedback; they had no real power to solve any of the customers’ problems and when people complained they said random things like, “We will work towards making things better for you.” Nobody wants to hear this nonsense; they want to know why their parcel contains things they didn’t order and when they will receive the right goods.
To wrap up, according to data, there are approximately 2.5 million apps available for download, yet the average person uses no more than nine apps daily and a maximum of 30 in a month. Additionally, most of these apps are popular ones like Facebook and Twitter so the likelihood that your app will find a space to reside on a user’s smartphone is highly unlikely, unless you offer a unique solution that adds value or local relevance. Do your homework rigorously and who knows, you may develop the next MTC app.
Syed Amir Haleem is CEO, Skale Interactive and Kueball Digital. firstname.lastname@example.org