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Mobile Foursquare Swarm

App feature bundling vs unbundling: What is the right mobile app strategy?

By Julian Smith |

March 23, 2015 | 4 min read

Over the last couple of years we’ve started to see a growing trend developing in the app economy.

What is the right mobile app strategy?

Some of the larger app developers have been actively unbundling (or disaggregating) their apps - offering a number of single function apps as opposed to one, all-encompassing, multi-functional app.

Facebook split off its messaging function from the core app and introduced the standalone Messenger app. Foursquare ported over the majority of its key functionality into their social check-in app Swarm. LinkedIn disaggregated its app by offering up a Job Search and Connected app amongst others. And newspapers, like the New York Times and the Guardian, have spun out different editorial content apps.

The reason behind this trend? It’s because there is only so many features, functionality and content you can pack into one app without it become unwieldy. As an app begins to incorporate more elements, it inevitably becomes more complex to use and harder to navigate, defeating the very purpose of a native app in the first place.

And it would appear that users generally prefer their apps to be uncomplicated and easy to use. Dennis Crowley, chief executive of Foursquare, believes that “the best apps out there are the ones with a single-case use that can be described in a sentence or tweet”.

This is why we’re seeing the bigger app economy brands and businesses start to carefully break apart their core apps in favour of offering a ‘constellation’ of simpler, single function apps. In so doing creating a group of complimentary apps that can now take advantage of the possibilities of deeplinking to interconnect (as provided by the likes of URX, Deeplink.me, Tapstream, Appsfire and Branch Metrics). A good example of this is the Google Drive app, which the search giant disaggregated into Google Apps, encompassing Docs, Sheets and Slides. Each of which works well with all the other apps via deep-linking but also helps to grow overall usage individually.

While app unbundling and simplification seems to make sense for the mobile app economy giants, is it the way to go for all the other app businesses and brands out there? Not necessarily.

For many apps this approach could potentially do more harm than good. By splitting out apps they run the risk of siloing their user base and losing more of their users more quickly.

Flurry recently found that half of all the apps lose 50 per cent of their peak users within three months, and app-unbundling threatens to accelerate that timeframe. Also each separate app will need app marketing resource and budget to gain a significant audience. This is often not at the disposal of many app developers – especially if they are already having to develop for iOS and Android, smartphone and tablet. So, as always, it will depend.

I think a better approach for most app brands and businesses would be to focus on delivering a great user experience, and fluid customer journey, in their core app – based around primary then secondary functionality. Whether it is booking flights and hotels, checking your bank account or hailing a cab, the app needs to be able to perform its core functionalities well. From there onwards, additional features and content can be built outwards piece by piece – bearing in mind a mantra of ‘less is more’.

But this should not stop app developers from creating other apps that serve different business or brand objectives. Ideally you would want to create an ecosystem of apps that do not cannibalise each other but help to foster additional usage of related apps, whilst keeping brand voice and design strong and consistent throughout. And over time take advantage of new ‘app bundle’ download options as provided in iOS8.

Julian Smith is head of strategy and innovations at Fetch

Mobile Foursquare Swarm

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