Kill your darlings: When to retire mobile apps

May 16, 20183 Minute Read

If you’ve ever dabbled in mobile apps or app development, you know how much hard work goes into the process. But the app world moves quickly, and companies, like Apple, are getting more stringent when it comes to enforcing app guidelines and allowing new entries into the fold. Coupled with the great purge of 2017, when Apple removed hundreds of thousands of defunct apps from the app store, it’s clear the app world has reached a new level of competition today.

This information raises some important questions. For instance, is it worth keeping up development for all your apps? Should you abandon and remove old apps from the store, so you can focus on your high performers? And how much can maximizing UX help those that remain?

Zombie apps need not apply

Mobile analysis firm SensorTower revealed that 598,000 of the active apps in the iPhone’s App Store haven’t been updated for two years or more. Of the astronomical total of apps in the App Store, 16 percent have lain dormant for at least three years—not a high percentage, but definitely a number worth considering.

SensorTower also noted that games are, by far, the most common form of abandonware. It’s not uncommon to find games that simply crash on more modern devices. For app developers, this should be a wake-up call: Think about which apps you’ve developed deserve to live on, and concentrate your efforts on making them better and shinier—or just start from scratch.

Going back to basics to relearn app fundamentals

Let’s back up for a second and think about the basics of the app market. Some apps sell for a one-time fee, and the app store provider will skim 30 percent of that revenue for itself—a brutal profit model for smaller companies.

An alternative is to offer a free app that carries advertisements via ad networks. Advertising requires a healthy user base, though, which is hard to rebuild if your app has been neglected for a while. The “walled garden” nature of mobile apps also makes it difficult to build a strong audience for them. Unlike the mobile web, you can’t easily link to content displayed in a mobile app. You can also sell in-app purchases, which works particularly well in games but can also support a subscription model. Mindfulness app Headspace, which recently scored $37 million in funding, successfully uses the latter.

On the topic of longevity, what proportion of users can your app expect to retain—and for how long? Some apps are shooting stars, shining brightly for a short time, then burning up. Others are slow and steady workhorses, attracting a strong base of users that keep coming back for more. Content plays a big part here. Games suffer the most, being highly trend-driven, while practical apps, like news and health-related apps, decay slower in terms of user numbers. This should factor into your decision about which apps to retire—and which to build next.

Maximizing UX

Your ability to keep up with the latest interface design trends is critical to an app’s success. Apple has usability design guidelines that change with its products. For instance, it made several changes to its own iOS design over the years, most notably moving from a skeuomorphic design to a flat one. It also later introduced 3D touch, which gives an extra dimension of interaction with the phone users.

If you haven’t updated your app in a while, consider the cost and effort involved in maximizing UX by updating your interface, since successful apps live and die by how appealing they are from a user experience perspective.

Should you ditch that trendy game that scored you several thousand users last year, but has dwindled since? Perhaps. Conversely, the perennial health or news app that has seen regular traction—and can be used to drive recurring revenues—might have staying power. Take a close look at your apps today and figure out the extra effort required to keep them relevant and appealing in an increasingly competitive mobile app market.

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