A mobile app at all costs ?

I boarded the smartphone train when the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S2 were the stars of the show.

I was a project manager at an agency that developed apps and the way forward for our clients was simple: "We have the budget: we want our mobile app!" It seemed like the obvious choice, in order to move with the times. A few years on, attitudes have changed. Instead of asking "When can we release our app?" the question is "Do I need an app?" Given the required investment (acquiring and keeping users, corrections, etc., on both iOS and Android), it is a question that deserves careful consideration   

81% of smartphone users only download one mobile app every week

Producing a mobile app is only the first step, which requires significant effort from an entire team. Now imagine that nobody downloads your app and it remains lost at the bottom of the store rankings, hidden from the eyes of potential users...   No matter how good your app is, if nobody downloads it, it will not get a chance to prove itself. This is not a guide to the best marketing tools to increase app downloads; the aim is to explain why releasing an app is not an end in itself. The user-acquisition phase requires a financial investment, which can vary in size. One thing is for sure; you will need to attract future users to generate downloads. By downloading the app, they are showing willingness to enter a relationship, which will need to be maintained.   I have already seen several projects that did not perform as well as expected. Spending several tens of thousands of euros on a mobile app and generating only a hundred or so downloads is not uncommon...  


On average, users only use 15 mobile apps over the course of a month.


Attracting new users is one thing; creating loyalty is another. Once they have installed your mobile app, you will need to maintain their interest. There is often a significant difference between the number of downloads and the number of actual users.  I would put mobile apps in one of three categories, according to how frequently they are used: 

  • The first category is small and includes apps used several times a day. Unless your name is Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram, it is very difficult to enter this closed circle.  
  • The second category includes apps with a relatively high usage frequency, generally used several times a week. In France, such apps include Leboncoin, Waze and L’Equipe. 
  • The third category includes apps that are less frequently used, usually several times a month. These include Oui.sncf, Blablacar and Airbnb in France. 

These examples will of course differ from user to user, but you get the picture.   If entering one of these categories seems difficult, it is probably worth thinking twice before launching a mobile app project.  

I previously worked in a UX team for a client specialised in employee savings schemes, with the aim of generating more frequent use. We worked together to lay the foundations of the overhaul, with a view to adopting an effective support approach, based on individual profiles, and with content relevant to real-life situations. Maintaining the interest of your users is a challenge, which can be met if you build a real relationship.      

On average, smartphone users visit 51 mobile websites every month. 

It is often said that the user experience on mobile apps is better than on web apps. If you compare the same service on both types of app, you will see that this is usually the case! There is a difference in terms of performance and in terms of available functions.   A mobile app can be used without an Internet connection, send push notifications, enable in-app purchases and more. However, such native functions may not be part of your specifications. Elsewhere, the journeys involved in your service may not require high performance levels. It is also important to bear in mind that there may well already be firmly established competitors in your market. In short, a web app can meet your requirements if it offers an attractive ROI.    

I once conducted a study for a tourist office that was considering the need to provide a mobile app. Based on the expectations of target users and the client (finding a route, restaurant, etc.), I advised against producing a mobile app, in particular given the fact that major players (such as Google Maps and TripAdvisor) already covered the needs expressed. I recommended capitalising on the website and social networks in order to win over and keep new users.    

Smartphones are unquestionably a key means of reaching your target audience. You therefore need to think mobile! However, having a mobile strategy does not necessarily mean providing a mobile app. It is necessary to take into account aspects related to acquiring and keeping users, user experience and, above all, ROI, in order to target the right area and opt for the most relevant distribution channel. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) can offer an interesting alternative, but they need to continue to prove themselves.     

Sources: Médiamétrie, App Annie