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Why are app makers fragmenting their apps?

Why are app makers fragmenting their apps?

I was a latecomer to Foursquare - but once I jumped on board and brought my wife along - we both enjoyed the gamification of the check-ins. It inspired a bit of competition between us - we battled weekly to wrangle the mayorship of a local traffic light, among other locations. But no longer.

When Foursquare decided to split its app into Swarm and Foursquare, they left me and my wife behind. Our vigorously fought mayorship victories evaporated. When check-ins were removed, I simply uninstalled the Foursquare app. I was sad, and even still find myself fighting the urge to check in - but not enough to deal with two apps that were once one. The battle for real estate of my phone and for my attention is hard earned - and once lost, unlikely to be reclaimed.

What motivated Foursquare to abandon folks like us?

It’s understandable that investor pressures forced Foursquare to take drastic action. To abandon their long dalliance with check-in gamification that never seemed able to convert into revenue. But I think they went about it incorrectly. Foursquare was a check-in service - to try to convert it into the next Yelp seems short sighted to me. Their spin-off of check-ins to Swarm (which I admittedly never downloaded) just seems ill advised. Instead, why not add the “review” function to Foursquare. But unfortunately, multiple “focused” apps seems to be the new hot thing.

Facebook has spun out their messenger app

I’ve rarely, if ever, used Facebook’s messenger service when it was part of the Facebook app on my iPhone. I could probably count the times on one hand. But now that it’s a separate app - I guarantee I’ll never use it, since I won’t even download it.

Perhaps I’m not their target audience (which is surprising since the average age of FB users is climbing). Which begs the question: why are they spinning this off? Opinions vary, but I’m inclined to believe it’s an attempt to harness more of our user data while absorbing more of our app usage time. If Facebook can cajole us into using more of its apps, it has the opportunity to gather more user data on us - which it can convert into more advertising dollars. If you’re using Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Messenger - you’re playing in their kingdom - and they can resell (or use) your data.

Even Google is splitting things up

Google is also slicing up its drive apps into Sheets, Slides, and Docs. And it appears it won’t be long until Google+ photos splits into a separate app. And I’d even wager google+ might disintegrate into lots of individual apps too - eventually.

It’s about user experience

The typical explanation for “unbundling” apps is that it allows for more focused and better user experience. The big boys examine user data and derive usage patterns and then decide to build specialized (split) apps around how users interact with their prior unified app. But frankly, the excuse of better user experience seems like bull-crap. It’s possible to create clean, well-functioning apps. You don’t need two or three or four apps. In fact, that seems to erode user experience. I don’t want hundreds of apps. The goal should be fewer apps - not more.

As smartphone usage increases, app downloads are falling

The Internet analytics firm ComScore recently reported that each month 65.5% of smartphone users don’t download any new apps. This one statistic should give pause to anyone invested in the unbundling movement. If fewer users are downloading apps - perhaps your new multi-app landscape won’t improve user experience - it will simply discontinue it, as in mine and my wife’s Foursquare experience. They split and so did we.

Instead of simplifying my app experience, app makers appear to want to complicate it

Sure, the reasons for the disparity in increasing smartphone users vs decreasing app downloaders probably has many causes. Discovering new quality apps can be difficult; storage space is limited for most folks; and once you’ve found a few apps you enjoy - they occupy the majority of your attention. Not to mention, as smartphones become commonplace we’re simply using our phones as a means to an end.

Which brings me back to wondering how making more apps will improve user experience or encourage more usage. In Foursquare’s and Facebook’s scenarios this seems even more poignant: Splitting out functions that worked seamlessly and allowed me to stay in one app - forcing me to jump between apps - makes things more cumbersome. And on my phone, if you’re Foursquare, gets you removed from my phone. And likewise with Facebook, abandons all hope of me ever using Messenger.

I hope this trend is short lived and it’s realized that the majority (as in 65.5%) of users want fewer apps. Instead of unbundling in the name of user experience, perhaps we’ll come full circle eventually and well-designed, integrated apps will return.

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Aug 23, 2014
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