5 Tips for Building a Mobile App that People Actually Use


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Whether a startup or large enterprise, every organization is in the business of building mobile apps. Tremendous growth is expected in both usage of and revenue from mobile apps between now and 2022. AppAnnie currently estimates that the four billion connected mobile devices now in use worldwide will double to eight billion devices in 2022. These devices will account for revenue growth estimated at $157 billion in 2022 (up from $81 billion in 2017).

Yet, despite this huge opportunity, winning and keeping mobile users engaged is no easy task. According to Localytics, “71% of app users churn within 90 days.” That means about three out of four mobile users leave after installing a mobile app. This being the case, it’s important to consider how you can drive engagement with your mobile apps so you can have more actively engaged mobile users and cash in on the huge opportunity that mobile promises. What follows are five tips to help you do just that.


For mobile apps to win engagement, they need to deliver what users expect. In a world where a single mobile app can meet multiple needs, it’s up to you to identify and prioritize those needs, and decide how you should meet them. The best way to do this is to run A/B tests and experiment to find what users really want.

Experimenting is especially important in the early days of an app, and successful experimentation helps you decide which type of user to focus on and which to de-prioritize. The more competitive your niche of the market, the more you need to innovate. In competitive niches like flight search apps, for example, the A/B testing will be less exploratory, as you should already know what users want. Instead, your testing should be geared towards optimizing the user interface to make users more productive, or finding small ways to help improve conversion rate (even by half a percentage point).

If you find it hard to decide which A/B tests to run, the best place to look for ideas is app store ratings and reviews for your app. There, users will tell you exactly what new features they want, or which existing features are not meeting expectations. A/B testing is a great way to improve user engagement and bring down that 71% churn rate.


Every mobile app has multiple personas, or types of people using them. Each will use the app differently. Yet, it’s important to cater to their varied needs in the same app. The best way to do this is to personalize the onboarding experience of your app.

Apps like those from Nike and ESPN have been designed with the knowledge that their users have varied tastes, and they ask users to select their preferences at the start so they can customize the app experience just for them.

Once you have a personalized onboarding experience, the next step is to graduate to personalized recommendations for each user. Think of this as your app’s version of Netflix’s movie recommendations, or Amazon’s product recommendations. This would involve data science, and it makes sense once you’ve got a great onboarding experience in place.


One mistake that app owners can make is to build their app for people like themselves. Stats show, however, that over 50% of global iOS app store spend in 2017 was in the APAC region. Further, China currently has the most app downloads and app spend globally, and India is the fastest-growing in terms of app downloads. These global cues have a bearing on how mobile apps are used, and on overall mobile engagement metrics.

The first step is to find out which countries your app is most used in, and then to consider localizing your app to better meet the needs of the top countries. This could mean simply translating your app into foreign languages, or it could be a dramatic change in UI to cater to different locations. Uber does a great job of localizing its app for different countries. This means you may need to rewrite, refactor, and redesign parts of your application to make it easier to scale globally. The upside is that you can tap into huge markets overseas that are pretty much green field territory.


The success of a mobile app depends on its performance and its usability metrics. If you’ve spent most of your time tracking performance metrics like app crashes, average load time, latency, and network errors, it’s likely you’ve hardly given thought to user and engagement metrics. These include metrics like daily active users (DAU), monthly active users (MAU), time spent in app, average time per user, retention rate, and churn rate. Viewing both types of metrics and analyzing how they relate to each other will yield great insight to improve app engagement.


The metrics for your own app matter, but you also need to benchmark your app’s performance against that of your top competitors and your niche of the app ecosystem. This is important because you may have positive user growth, but your competitors may be growing even faster, which could be a concern.

While there are some things common to all mobile apps, each vertical has different characteristics. For example, game apps are the top-grossing apps globally, accounting for over 70% of overall app revenue. However, game apps have short lifespans, and the ecosystem is hyper-competitive. With retail and ecommerce apps, the more time a user spends in the app, the more likely they are to buy. Additionally, retail is heavily influenced by seasonal trends like holiday shopping. Media apps like Netflix are driven by mobile network speeds in the local markets. Social media apps are driven by the network effect. It’s essential to stay abreast of these nuances for each industry by reading research like AppAnnie’s 2017 report.


Mobile apps have an exciting future. As a mobile app developer, tester, or product owner, driving engagement with your mobile app is a priority. To do this successfully, you need to think not just about the technology that powers your app, but also the usability metrics and market data that define your app’s success or failure. This is the only way to bring down that dreaded 71% churn rate metric, and ensure your users stay engaged over the long term.

Twain began his career at Google, where, among other things, he was involved in technical support for the AdWords team. Today, as a technology journalist he helps IT magazines, and startups change the way teams build and ship applications. Twain is a regular contributor at Fixate IO.


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