Rajat Saxena


Mobile Apps Are Doomed, I Repeat Mobile Apps Are Doomed

This is coming straight from a developer, who’s having four native apps in production.

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Are you planning a new app startup or a native app for your startup? Let me give you a fun fact.

Most of the people download zero apps per month.

Yep! Although people are spending more and more time on their smartphones and apps but the sad truth is, there are only a handful of apps which eat up all of their time. You can count those apps on your fingers:

  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Twitter (maybe?)

I am not telling you this, to demotivate your or to keep you from writing new apps or building new products.

I am just telling you the bitter truth about the current market. It seems like the “App Gold Rush” is finally over. So now you can channel your resources accordingly and just don’t follow the “herd mentality” that you’ve to have a native app (or apps) for your business.

I am a self-proclaimed, self-taught (I have a degree in computer science, but they don’t teach real shit in school. They never did!) Full Stack and Android developer, as my bio lists.

I’ve built several Android apps in a hope to earn some mulla, which obviously never arrived. Duh! The app market and app stores have become very competitive nowadays and you just cannot hope to get downloads, 5 star ratings and huge earnings from in-app purchases and ads, like older times, just because you’ve invested some time in building the app itself. Users don’t owe you anything.

Many people assume that building an app is the 80% part of the job. I am a developer, I breathe code and I am telling you this,

Coding is the easiest part as far as making an app a success is concerned.

The real success of any app based business depends upon how many users are going to download its applications on their phones and then choose to engage with those apps, frequently.

If people keep coming back to your apps, you can show more ads, sell more services or products, or do something else to monetize their attention. The sad part is, almost all apps, except the Big 3 (or 4?) are struggling to keep their users engaged enough, while the Big 3 are busy building walled gardens so that their users never leave their monetized boundaries.

I launched an app startup Pollen Chat, last summer thinking that the app will market itself, because it’s choke full of useful features and boy, was I wrong. Despite of heavy word-of-mouth publicity, we are unable to retain users. They come, try the app for a while, then go back to the Big 3(or 4?).

Now building an app, or anything for that matter, has an associated cost. You need to buy developer accounts, pay developers and designers to build your app and pay for servers. I hanged out in the some of the sub-reddits and discovered that most of the developers are unable to earn back even the amount they have paid to Google or Apple to sign up as developers. Isn’t this heartbreaking?

Did I recover my Google Play Developer Fee?

A resounding No! My Google Developer account has generated only 2–3 dollars through banner Ads, till now. That’s so much motivation to keep working on my Android apps, right? Google or Apple can’t be blamed for this. The thing is,

Our users are overwhelmed

Everyday, hundreds of the applications are being dumped (sorry developers! your work ain’t no dump, but still…) on to the app stores, in a hope that the creators can make some money off of them. Mobile users on the other side, get way too many options for everything! They get overwhelmed with the amount of apps that are available in the market(s), to do the exact same thing, or maybe the same thing but in a slightly different way. They try a couple of them and they again go back to the Big 3 (or 4?).

On top of that,

The Big 3 (or 4?) are running after your app’s demographics

You have a news reading app?

Google Play Newstand and Apple News are there to compete with you.

You have a music streaming app?

Google Music and iTunes, enough said.

Social networking site?

Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram.

Now these guys have huge engineering talent pools and the platforms itself belong to them, so they can use unpublished APIs and several sophisticated tricks to enhance the UI and performance of their apps. Third party developers can never (OK! almost always) match that.

So should you just throw in the towel and do nothing?

Absolutely No! What I am suggesting in this article is that you focus on creating more and more value for your users, no matter what the medium is, be it an Android app or an iOS app or even a Facebook chatbot.

Launching an app just to get more eyeballs and attention isn’t a way to go. It is only going to take a toll on your engineering and marketing resources, if not planned and executed strategically. For example, it’s better to put AI into your web app, to suggest more user friendly content than to launch a native mobile app, which is an exact replica of your mobile site and does not have any added advantage over it.

Plan a native app, when it really enables you to deliver more value, using extra features provided by smartphones, not because everybody else is doing it.

For example, my app Pollen Chat sends timely updates to the server, about user’s location. It is something, I couldn’t have achieved from a mobile website. I had to have a native app, which can wake up at regular intervals, track user’s location and send it to the server, just like how Google App tracks your location updates and shows you appropriate cards, instantaneously …and as I’ve already mentioned “The Big 3 (or 4?) are running after your app’s demographics”. LOL.

The feature I built into Pollen Chat, is now supported by Google App. It is doing the exact same thing, Pollen Chat was supposed to do. Being a single developer that I am, I just did not have faster iteration cycles, like Google. You can save yourself from a great deal of trouble, if you don’t try to go head-to-head with the Big 3 (or 4?).

So, here are some actionable tips from my experience launching native apps

  1. Don’t plan a native mobile app, initially.
  2. Go native when you must.
  3. Niche down or micro niche down.
  4. Iterate faster, when you’ve decided to go native.
  5. Use native features of the platform to deliver more value.
  6. Don’t follow the cult of launching native apps just for the heck of it.

If you liked this post, kindly recommend it to your network and follow me for more posts like this one. You should also subscribe to my YouTube channel, if you like developing digital things.

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Till next time…

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