An opinion piece by Luke Carlson and Ryan Stecher
Despite having large budgets, many big companies make similar patterns of blunders with their iOS apps, harming their ratings and rankings. As part of our work at Appboy, Ryan Stecher and I tracked and analyzed iOS apps created by companies on Interbrand’s Top Brands and top companies by comScore. After sifting through a high volume of data, we began seeing patterns among low rated apps. Below are the five biggest blunders companies made when it came to iOS development:
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Whether you are a big chain restaurant or a small game company, making an innovative iOS app can be difficult. Let’s say that you’re a car company that wants to build a new app for each new car you make. Each app is pretty similar: a video, car specs and maybe a few photos with different models sprinkled in. Don’t be surprised if reviews complain about the repetitiveness of your apps — users don’t need 15 apps that do the same thing.
We found a similar problem in the restaurant industry. Most chain companies with apps had some form of a store locator. However, the iPhone has a little something called Google Maps (and is soon releasing its own map app), and in many cases, the store locator apps were missing locations or underperformed in comparison to Google’s product. Even when an app is as good as Google Maps, is it even necessary? Why should a user download another app when they can just use the one they already have?
This issue wasn’t unique to the restaurant industry: gas stations, clothing brands, and consumer goods stores all had the same issue. If there are other apps out there that do your job better, then maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Make Sure it Works
Big companies often seem to struggle with this simple piece of advice. An app’s release is a make-or-break situation: by having a strong initial release, your app can maintain a good ranking early off. If your app gets stuck in the lower rankings because of a buggy release, it’ll have a very hard time clawing back up even after you make bug fixes in your next update. As a result, people will have a much harder time discovering your app. Make sure that your app is in perfect working order upon release! During our research, we came across apps that had disappearing UI elements, slow load times, warped images, videos that couldn’t load, and crashes.
For example, one big motion picture company made a game to promote their upcoming movie. Their reviews were cluttered with complaints about long load times and crashes. Some even mentioned that they weren’t able to open the app. The poorly-made app was pummeled with negative reviews from the 1.0 release, and as a result, it fell in the rankings from 140 to 738 in just a month (according to AppAnnie).
Although not as important as your app’s initial release, you have to make sure that future updates work as well. We found several cases where updates kept a previously working app from loading at all. These buggy updates hurt your app’s ranking — for instance, an app ranked 66 overall dropped 20 places to 86 in one day as a result of a buggy update. Another example is a magazine app created by a top-ten media giant. The app landed a spot in the top 50 but began receiving fewer and fewer updates afterwards. Within a 6 month period, the app lost its footing as a result of a few bugs and was poised to drop out of the top 1000 in the next month. The company recently released an update that was designed to address “minor bugs” to help revitalize the app, but failed to fix the bugs and instead caused the app to crash for most of its users. This update guaranteed a place beyond the top 1000 for the app, leading to our next point…
Don’t Abandon Your App
Companies juggling a large catalog or focused on just getting an app out sometimes forget to update their apps. Information moves fast in the digital era, and these “abandoned” apps appear outdated or receive 1 star ratings due to unaddressed errors. Sports apps that do not update standings and stats are almost constantly subjected to a flurry of 1 star reviews until the app is banished to the pit of mediocrity. We also came across newspapers and magazines that no longer updated their content or added the newest issue of their magazine, rendering the app useless.
There was one other case that drastically harmed an app’s standings: crash on startup. Nothing says “I forgot about you” more than than a developer who lets a fatal bug last for months on their app. Your app depends on an engaged user base, and if you abandon your user base, they will abandon you.
Don’t Clutter Your UI
Especially with Useless Features
One of the most important factors for app success is a clean and well thought out UI. If the user struggles to find a certain feature, or struggles to find something as basic as the settings/options, you have serious work to do. Some of the main UI issues we saw in our research are below:
- Illegible text
- Blurry pictures
- Too many references to social media
- Too many tabs
One newspaper app that we saw had disappearing back arrows, making it impossible for a user to navigate. Additionally, the app’s text wasn’t centered and was difficult to read. A poor UI is quickly reflected in user reviews, and a bad rating can really hurt your app’s standing in the rankings. Many apps fail to follow basic UI paradigms:
- Make sure all buttons and switches are functioning, and make sure that those buttons and switches perform a worthwhile function.
- Aim to have as few buttons as possible.
- Consider the most logical flow of content for your users.
On the flip side of our research, users were really impressed by a good UI. Even a simple sportscar e-book app received great reviews because of how easy it was to navigate through content. All in all, try to have a simple and impressionable UI, since it greatly influences your users’ experience.
Know Your Audience
This is harder when an app is first launched, but within a few months you should have a pretty good idea of the type of person who uses your app. BET made an app with information on BET Award winners and video clips of the event. The app was a success both during the ceremony and afterwards because users enjoyed being able to quickly check winners. Another media company tried to make an app for a big award show as well, but it didn’t go over as well. Their app focused on photos and info on nominees but was missing the actual winners. Someone using an app specifically designed for a single awards ceremony is probably going to want the results, and the app reached the top 200 in Entertainment but dropped off days after the show.
A brewing company decided to make a ‘beer guide’ but it too failed to recognize its audience: people who want to look up all types of beer. The app only offered a small amount of info on beers, all owned by this particular company. Had they recognized that most of their users would be expecting an actual beer guide, they could have at least managed these expectations appropriately.
Another beer company made a related blunder when they created an app that pairs alcoholic beverages with the user’s dinner. It’s safe to assume that the average user of this app has at least marginal knowledge about food and alcohol. When users found the app pairing their steaks with a lite beer or a hamburger with wine, they were less than pleased.
These 5 blunders were present in many of the cases we studied. Most apps with one or more of these issues received ratings of 2.5 stars or less, surprisingly mediocre results from industry giants.
As a side note: Some of these poorly made apps are featured in the “What’s Hot” section, regardless of their rating and/or quality. But since you don’t have the benefit of being a billion dollar company, we suggest you take our advice and avoid these mistakes.
Luke and Ryan were summer interns with us at Appboy. Let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments below.