The Most Prominent Reasons Apps Fail & How To Avoid Them
Typically, a person will decide to download an app in only a few seconds. At the same time, the massive volume of apps available intensifies competition for user attention. As of August 2019, a combined total of 4.42 million apps were available between the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. So, in today’s saturated market, what does it take to develop a successful mobile app?
While the competition in the app market is high, failure isn’t always a result of getting lost in the noise. In most cases, there are other contributing factors. This article will outline six common reasons mobile app development projects fail and identify areas for improvement so you can adjust your strategy to effectively meet business and product goals.
Poorly researched market & audience
It’s easy to think that users will love your app, but can you validate that assumption? Long before development begins it’s essential to have a deep understanding of your product’s target audience. Not only is audience research necessary for developing an app that addresses a specific user need, but it also aids in the development of marketing campaigns that will attract users. A successful app launch strategy is firmly rooted in user research.
There can be multiple groups of users for an app, so during the early planning and discovery stage of a project, you have to identify the product’s central demographics and create user personas. A user persona is a semi-fictional representation of the product’s ideal user. The more detailed user personas are, the better. Demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals are just a few aspects to include in a user persona.
If you decide to build an app without doing the research, defining the audience, and strategizing use cases and features that will appeal to that audience, you run the risk of building a product you assume people will want, but in reality, don’t.
Introducing a new product to the market should be an iterative process to validate assumptions about user behavior and the product itself. An iterative process is highly beneficial for continuously meeting the needs of users and maintaining engagement. But how do you know exactly what to build for your users? How will you solve their pain points and exceed their expectations far beyond what the competition offers? Consider the minimum viable product development method, which is a process designed to identify user pain points and determine the proper functionality to address those needs over time. Building an MVP provides quick market entry and a foundational user experience that allows companies to learn how users react to the app’s core purpose, and with this insight, make logical decisions about how to achieve both business and product goals.
Lack of originality
The truth is, app stores are oversaturated with similar apps. Today’s most successful apps have a strong value proposition.
Competitive research will help reveal your competition’s strengths and weaknesses to define your own competitive advantage. Building a product that offers the same features as your competition won’t help you win over users. A unique value proposition (UVP) is the first step you need to consider to optimize user loyalty and overall business success.
One of the best ways to increase your chances of success is to draft a vision statement for your product. A vision statement creates a definite sense of direction towards the end goal of the application. As well, your vision statement defines the solution to the problem your intended users are facing.
Mobile app prototyping is another excellent method for creating a UVP. Testing a mobile product with a prototype is essential for user-centric design and development. Prototyping is a central part of the design thinking research process and uses rapid iteration to arrive at a product that offers maximum user value. Often the prototyping process will expose new ideas and confirm the best direction to take during development. Developing a prototype is a cyclical activity where product teams continually review and refine the product concept, returning to the beginning of the process several times until the concept meets business objectives and user needs. Overall, the process helps identify and fix problems early on in the project when it’s far less expensive to make changes.
Design thinking is at the core of creating original mobile products. Throughout the design thinking process, product teams conduct a substantial amount of research to either validate or invalidate a product concept using rapid prototyping. Design thinking supports innovation by observing and considering multiple solutions to a single problem. The core principle of design thinking asserts that a user-centric approach to product development encourages innovation, which leads to market differentiation and competitive advantage.
Not choosing a platform wisely
Android and iOS (as well as other platforms) have very intuitive interface guidelines. They operate in different ways and appeal to different user groups.
By looking at your users’ choice of smartphone, you already gain some useful knowledge from statistical data alone. For example, iOS users typically have a higher income and more education than Android users. This information in itself may influence your decisions about the product’s monetization strategy. If your monetization strategy relies heavily on in-app purchases, an iOS app may be the most profitable platform; however, if you plan to monetize through ad placements, Android might be your best choice. Remember, the primary objective of any mobile app is to provide users with a solution to a specific problem they collectively face. If you don’t have a solid understanding of how user behavior changes between operating systems, you’ll find it difficult to develop an app that addresses the specific needs of your target user group.
When apps don’t perform well across the scope of devices, networks, and operating systems, it becomes a major problem. Users get frustrated when an app works on their iPhone, but not on their iPad, for example. When deciding what platform is best for your mobile app, a key question to ask is: what is the goal and purpose of your application? Choosing the right platform for your mobile app depends on the app content you intend to create and overall business goals. It comes down to analyzing your target market, and core user demographics to choose the option that best suits your business.
When developing for multiple platforms, it’s important to build with platform differences in mind. Apps that fail to do this stand to cause frustration amongst users. With the average user taking less than a minute to decide whether or not an app is worth using, a little frustration can be detrimental.
Poor user experience
There are a lot of components involved in building an app that offers a great user experience. At a base level, your app needs to be intuitive. If a user struggles to perform basic functions on your app and can’t figure out core functionalities easily, the result is very poor usability. Some other examples of poor user experience include:
- App performance issues (slow or lagging)
- Long load times
- Long registration processes
- Features that are difficult to access
Successful mobile apps all have one thing in common: they benefit users. If a user is going to use an app repeatedly, the product needs to be useful and offer a great deal of value. Creating an amazing UX involves practicing design thinking and establishing an extensive understanding of the target users’ lives and unmet needs.
It’s important to note that the UX encompasses much more than how a user feels about a product or service. It incorporates a strategic understanding of the product’s business model and the processes clients use. It also consists of understanding the broader context in which users interact and engage. A successful UX design creates solutions that meet the needs of the client, users and ultimately works within the bounds of the technological platforms.
While it’s rare that an app will be launched without minor bugs, making sure you invest in QA before shipping can ensure there are no major issues. If an app isn’t tested properly, it’s bound to be rife with bugs that impact user experience and is prone to crash. A single crash is more than enough to stop users from ever using it again. In fact, some of the most common negative reviews on app stores are related to apps crashing. In today’s mobile app market, it doesn’t take long for users to pass judgment on the products they download. Users have incredibly high expectations for mobile app quality, functionality, and performance.
According to a study by Blancco Technology Group (BTG), Fifty-eight percent of iOS-based devices suffer from performance failures like apps crashing or components shutting down. App testing must be done thoroughly, with a documented process in place, to ensure that your application is market-ready. It’s unlikely you’ll get a second chance if you fail to impress users the first time around.
A poorly executed mobile app launch
An app launch strategy has a significant impact on acquiring and retaining users; it is a marketing effort that requires extensive research and ongoing work to see results. To improve your chances of success, there should be an established marketing plan to ensure that every step is made and executed properly in a timely manner.
If you want your app to have a high download and user retention rate, it needs to make a good first impression within the first few days prior to launch. This is a critical time to focus on highlighting the value of the app in order to optimize the onboarding process. If you don’t impress your new users quickly, you’ll likely lose their interest altogether.
A mobile app launch isn’t a one-time event. There will always be room for improvement which makes the mobile app launch a cyclical process that requires reassessment as market demands change. Recently launched mobile apps should be updated and relaunched regularly to keep users engaged through new updates and features.
Benchmarking mobile app success
Mobile app development follows a build-measure-learn process. Setting success criteria and measuring performance provides a long-term direction for your development strategy. The definition of success will differ depending on the type of app you’re developing and your overall business objectives. It’s important to understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your product before beginning any development work.
There are quite a few success metrics that need to be monitored to gauge the performance of your mobile app. These metrics fall into four distinct categories:
1. General Marketing or App Launch Metrics
- Website, microsite, or landing page traffic
- Website, microsite, landing page, or content backlinks
- Website, microsite, or landing page domain authority
- Brand and product mentions
- Social media audience growth
- Social media engagement and vitality
- Email subscriber growth
- Email actions and engagement (opens, click-throughs, unsubscribes)
2. User Acquisition Metrics
- Increase Daily Active Users (DAUs)
- Increase Monthly Active Users (MAUs)
- Increase Daily Sessions per DAU
- Increase retention rate
- Reduce churn rate
It’s easy to conclude that user acquisition is the leading metric for determining the success of a mobile app launch, but without active users, substantial download rates mean nothing. Mobile app engagement and mobile app retention are two metrics that provide genuine insight into the success of an application. Monitoring engagement and retention metrics will help improve the lifetime value of the app, but arguably one of the most effective ways to ensure successful retention rates is to build a retention strategy into the core experience of the product. This recent article explains how to take a proactive approach to user retention and how it creates an uncommonly sticky mobile app.
3. User Action Metrics
- Increase conversions
- Increase sessions
- Reduce session intervals
- Feature use/in-app engagement
4. Business Metrics
- Increase in revenue
- Increase conversions
- Upsell products
- Reduce cost per acquisition
- Increase lifetime value
- Reduce abandonment rates
- Product reviews
Not only is it important to monitor your own product’s performance, but the performance of competitor products as well. Identifying the right success criteria for your mobile app will help identify areas for improvement so you can adjust your strategy to effectively meet business and product goals.
Other common mobile app development challenges
While every app development project comes with its own challenges, there are a few that tend to surface repeatedly, regardless of the nature of the project.
Project delays & budget overruns
Delays are one of the most significant challenges faced by companies trying to get a product shipped. This problem is universal but is particularly prevalent in larger-scale, complex projects. Delays happen for a variety of reasons but are often a result of poor processes, improper capacity planning, dependencies, and talent gaps.
Budget overruns are often explicitly tied to product delays. The “time is money” adage holds true in this scenario. The longer it takes you to release a product, the higher the overall cost.
How to deal with it
Product delays and budget overruns are not easily avoided, but there are ways to reduce time and budget risks in projects:
- Iterative development: One of the biggest impediments to product success is trying to achieve absolute perfection with version one. The problem with this is that perfection is usually subjective, and aiming for it means you aren’t able to get to market quickly. It’s more effective to ship quickly and frequently, allowing you to continually improve based on user feedback.
- Capacity planning (predictable velocity): Product delays and budget overruns are often the results of improper capacity planning. If you can’t accurately estimate team capacity, you can’t properly estimate timelines or budgets. Creating a process that allows you to determine the team capacity and compare it to the project requirements means you can predict velocity with a fair degree of certainty.
- Flexibility: The inability to adapt to changing needs can have a huge impact on both time and budget. Building flexibility into your app development process helps you better manage both time and budget and adapt quickly as requirements evolve. As a result, you can better maintain velocity.
A lack of in-house experience & talent
Many organizations (incorrectly) assume that in-house development and QA teams are sufficient for mobile projects. In some cases, this assumption is very true. But more often than not, there are talent gaps, particularly when employees are not trained as mobile developers. There also tends to be an assumption that in-house teams can learn mobile technologies quickly enough to meet the company’s mobile app development needs.
How to deal with it
Generally speaking, there are two options when it comes to filling talent gaps: hire talent or source a specialized app development partner. Often, hiring new staff is not possible due to operational limitations, making sourcing a specialized partner the logical move. However, you need to ensure that the vendor you partner with can fill those talent gaps. Apart from project experience, you also want to look at aspects that include:
- Ability to integrate with your team
- The process of knowledge transfer and retention
- Experience with similar engagements
- Change management processes
- Overall development process
These considerations will allow you to account for concerns that include the ability to deliver on product requirements; the ability to manage change; and the reduction of risk (time, budget, and personnel, for example).
Many stakeholders with differing priorities
This challenge is particularly difficult to deal with as changing priorities can throw off timelines, affect the project scope, and devour budgets. If you have a rigid app development process that doesn’t cope well with change, this challenge can have devastating consequences.
How to deal with it
Effectively dealing with differing priorities and changing requirements comes down to being flexible and adaptable in your process. In particular, following processes that account for change allow you to adapt on the fly without losing project velocity. As a result, when priorities or requirements shift as the product evolves or stakeholders reevaluate, your team has the flexibility to pivot without wasting time or resources.
In mobile app development, change is inevitable. A product requirements document (PRD) is invaluable for supporting change management. Without a PRD, it’s very easy for change to cause you to lose sight of your original app concept and all of its associated requirements at the expense of user value and cost repercussions.
A PRD will demonstrate how complex your project is and in many cases, mobile app planning will reveal that most projects involve several systems, subsystems and functionalities. Creating accurate documentation will ensure development handoffs between team members don’t lead to mistakes or unnecessary changes.
The goal is to minimize fluctuation between the initial requirements specified in the PRD and what is actually developed; however, external forces like user demand, technological advancement, and competitive threat emerge during the development lifecycle. These unexpected realities can cause you and your team to think that development needs to make a U-turn, but rather than speeding up the implementation of new requirements, your PRD serves as a reference point to thoughtfully consider the necessity of change in relation to your product goals.
Three reasons teams miss product deadlines
Even with solid planning, experienced project teams, and seemingly reasonable launch goals, many products still miss delivery deadlines. While this is more common than teams and stakeholders would like, there are steps that can effectively mitigate time risk in product development and delivery.
Scope creep is pervasive in software development and difficult to manage because as the name suggests, it creeps up on you. Additional requests and added features strain resources and can affect the focus of the product vision, and without the proper controls, can severely affect project success.
In some cases, scope creep can be curtailed by strong project management and product ownership. Clearly defining product goals and identifying success factors can help ensure that change requests and added features that aren’t aligned to objectives don’t threaten timelines.
- Do new feature requests align with the product vision?
- Do the proposed changes add value to the end-user?
- Are they critical or nice to have?
With that said, the most effective way to manage scope creep consistently (at least as it applies to the meeting of deadlines) is to follow a process that assumes and allows for change, which brings us to the next major time risk.
We talk a lot about the importance of process, and for good reason; poor process results in a myriad of project issues, including missed deadlines. Process shortcomings manifest in different ways, but the results are consistent – an increased risk of project failure. Failing to follow agile principles and not embedding flexibility in the development process means your team can’t adapt quickly. If you can adapt quickly, you lose project velocity, and miss target deadlines.
For many projects, requirements do (and probably should) change; the key to managing these changes is how you react to them. In agile, changes are assessed throughout the project, with a natural break built-in before each iteration.
The perfection complex
Clearbridge Mobile CTO, Sanjay Malhotra, explains it well.
“In my experience in software development, I’ve learned that agile development places great emphasis on iteration, or the idea of failing fast so you can learn, adapt, and improve quickly and continuously. An all-or-nothing mindset, a fear of making mistakes, and many other aspects of perfectionist thinking are not beneficial learning tools, and seeking perfection in every project does not help achieve product goals.”
His point is not to ship inferior products; rather, he is pointing out that an obsession with total perfection eliminates the ability to ship early and deliver often. The perfection complex results in unnecessary delays that affect the ability to ship within deadlines.
In software development, it’s important to accept imperfection. While being open to failure is frustrating, practicing the fail-fast method allows development teams to find and correct defects sooner. That means fewer bugs go into production, which leads to high-quality, production-ready software. It’s much more valuable to go to market quickly with a minimum viable product, gather user feedback, and deliver iteratively to continually improve your product and provide a better experience for your users. This means clearly defining the requirements for an MVP and prioritizing features and functionality accordingly.
The verdict on why mobile apps fail
The performance of an app depends on many factors that can range from competition to marketing budgets to sheer luck. But beyond these factors, poor research and poor process execution are common reasons why mobile apps fail when launched. Focusing efforts on market and audience research, following platform-specific best practices, and thorough quality assurance testing can be the difference between failure and success.