Since the launch of the iOS App Store in 2008, tech companies have worked to figure out what role mobile apps might play in their businesses.
A native iOS or Android app with a delightful user experience can reach users in a way your website can’t. Mobile apps are immersive and performant, showcasing beautiful UI, and opening up a direct line of communication to your users via push notifications. And the ease of access from your phone's home screen can't be overstated. Given all the capabilities available to native app developers, how do you decide what to build? If you already have a strong web product, how does your app fit into the lineup?
When forming your mobile product roadmap, you may choose to follow the industry norm: build towards parity with your existing website. Having a mobile experience that closely mirrors your web product can make a lot of sense. Cross-platform users expect to see a consistent look and feel between web and app. Additionally, providing your users with access to your entire feature set, regardless of platform, ensures you’re meeting users where they are.
However, in constantly striving for parity, you can fall into the trap of “porting” features designed and developed for web to a mobile platform where the rules of engagement are different. Are you really delivering mobile users the best possible experience? Or are you hoping that what has worked historically on web will provide a good enough experience on your native app?
FOLLOW THE DATA
Understanding how your users engage with your app can be a great first step in re-thinking your mobile strategy. How does the behavior of your app users differ from that of your web users? What features are most used on the app? Which features have low engagement? Are there patterns in when users choose to open the app versus visit your site?
We did a deep dive into our analytics at BetterUp and learned a lot about how usage of our products differ by platform. We learned that members engage differently with coach messaging and content on mobile. We learned that engagement on mobile relative to web spikes on the weekends, when employees are away from the office and primarily using their mobile devices instead of laptops. We dug into how the behavior of our enterprise members differs from our direct to consumer audience.
Insights like these, combined with qualitative data from our Customer Support team and feedback from our members, helped to clarify the role the app played and what the future of the product might be.
PARITY AT WHAT COST?
Developing for parity may hinder innovation.
Depending on the organization, the size of a mobile team relative to the number of web engineers can widely vary. However, it is frequently the case that a company’s mobile team is smaller, requiring ruthless prioritization in order to deliver the most value with the resources available, and chasing parity may not be the best use of precious engineering time.
Mobile engineers, particularly on smaller teams, are often playing a never ending game of catch up, building features that have already been implemented and tested on web. While this strategy may help to de-risk the features that make it into the app, it also doesn’t leave much room for mobile innovation and experimentation. Mobile developers may be left feeling disengaged, mimicking work done by web teams, and wondering if what they’re working on really suits a mobile audience.
A NEW STRATEGY
It’s easy to develop a roadmap to keep your app in parity with your website. But will that roadmap deliver the features that will keep your mobile users most engaged? You may discover, like we did, that people use your app differently than your web product. Focus on enhancing features your mobile users love and consider sunsetting features that may have high engagement on web but perform poorly on mobile. On mobile, sometimes less is more.
Foster innovation by encouraging engineers to propose mobile first, or mobile only, features that utilize the incredible capabilities of iOS and Android phones. Mobile technologies and patterns evolve quickly, and your users will notice when your app feels dated and behind on the latest tech.
Mobile apps are better suited than web at providing high frequency, low touch experiences. Consider whether that web feature you just built will hold the attention of someone on a mobile device.
While users will expect some level of parity, defining the role your native app plays in your business and tailoring the experience to a mobile user’s needs will give your app, and your team, more opportunity to shine.
About the Author
Vanessa Petrosky is a Staff iOS Engineer on BetterUp's Direct to Consumer squad. She lives in Atlanta and loves trail running, crossword puzzles, and traveling to new cities.