Author: Mark Petrie

Reducing the cost of an API outage

In this article, we are going to look at why APIs have outages, what the cost of an API outage can be and therefore the importance for you, as a mobile app developer, to monitor all of the API Endpoints your app depends on to function, in order to reduce the cost of an API outage on your mobile app.

AWS.availability() != API.availability()

The reliability and availability (uptime) of cloud computing providers such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure has improved massively over the last few years. However, most modern websites, services and APIs that we choose to host on them, are built on a complex chain of dependencies. Every now and again, a link in that chain will break. As soon as that happens, any mobile apps that depend on these APIs to function are going to incur costs. The cost of wasted marketing spend on user acquisition campaigns, the cost of lost subscription revenue opportunities and the cost of putting right the reputational damage from all those one-star “Crashes when it opens” reviews in the app stores.

Cost of an API Outage - Bad ReviewsTherefore, while you may not have control over all of the services and APIs that your app depends on, it is essential that you, as a mobile app developer, monitor their availability, so you can pro-actively take action to mitigate the impact of an outage on your mobile app rather than walking ignorant into the bad news on Monday morning.

Why do APIs have outages?

The concept of code reusability in software development is nothing new. However, where this used to be constrained to the confines of a module, product or at best company, the open-source movement and availability of package managers such as NPM now means that almost all new software reuses code written and maintained by others. This is not a bad thing, it is very the reason developers can deliver rich user experiences in relatively short periods of time. However, it does mean that the quality of your website, service or API is now, to some extent, dependant on the quality of the code that you include. And, if the person who wrote that code has adopted the same approach as you, then you are also now dependant on the quality of the code that they include… and so on.

Of course, this is where software testing comes in – to verify quality before release. But what you may not realise, is that this must be repeated for every release. Why? Because all of the code that you included changesregularly!

By their own definition, NPM “makes it easy for JavaScript developers to share and reuse code, and makes it easy to update the code that you’re sharing, so you can build amazing things”.

By making it easy to update the code being shared, they also make it easy to update the code you are including. Again, this is not a bad thing, especially when it comes to patching security vulnerabilities. However, installing unattended updates every night carries with it the risk that something, somewhere high up in the complicated chain of dependencies breaks… and along with it… everything downstream, including your website, service or API!

Cost of an API outage - npm error

This was perfectly illustrated in the infamous “left-pad incident” of 2016 when a developer unpublished 11 lines of code from NPM and “broke half the Internet”. These 11 lines of code were contained in a module called left-pad that had been downloaded 2.5 million times in one month alone. The removal of left-pad first caused problems with other very popular open source packages such as React, Node and Babel and then resulted in problems for the numerous websites, services and APIs built upon these technologies. Most of those impacted had never even heard of left-pad let alone knew that their software was in some way dependent upon the availability of those 11 lines of code!

So this is why APIs have outages! Not even to mention all of the other regular problems that can happen – hard disks crash, people forget to update SSL Certificates (this little old chestnut alone was responsible for all Occulus Rift VR Headsets shutting down and mobile operators O2 and Softbank losing 4G data services) and every once in a while… even the trusted cloud computing providers themselves can have problems – in March 2018, AWS Eastern Region suffered a power outage taking down Atlassian JIRA, Slack and Twilio!

All in all, it is inevitable that at some point, one of the APIs your mobile app depends on to function will have an outage.

Measuring the cost of an API outage

The cost of any one outage will of course depend on the timing, duration and nature of the business(es) it impacts. A recent report by The Ponemon Institute estimates the average Global 5000 company will incur costs of over $15m USD resulting in a certificate outage (not including any regulatory fines for applicable businesses).

The exact timing of the Facebook/Messenger/WhatsApp/Instagram outage in March 2019 is unclear, but it is accepted that these services were either down or suffering from degraded performance for almost 2 days. According to Facebook’s own earnings announcement, this would put the cost of such an outage to them at over $300m USD.

While Facebook themselves may be able to sustain such (expected) unexpected costs, for those that rely on the platform for advertising and custom, the impact is more severe. For some small businesses the cost of that outage was five figures and much more serious.

Estimating the cost of an API outage on your app

Estimating the potential cost of an API outage for your app is actually quite straightforward if you know your Cost-per-Install (CPI), retention and conversion percentages through your onboarding funnel.

For example, your app retains 25% of installs as Monthly Active Users (MAU) and then converts 20% of these into subscribers. If your monthly target is 5000 new subscribers, you know that you will need 100,000 installs each month (approx. 3300 per day). At an average Cost-per-Install (CPI) across all your different media sources of $2 USD then your will need to spend around $200k USD each month on user acquisition to meet your target of 5000 subscribers.

However, lets say that one of the APIs your app uses changes unexpectedly over the course of one weekend breaking the signup flow in your app. If it takes you three days to diagnose the problem, update your app and publish the update to the stores, the 10,000 potential subscribers who download the app during this time will be unable to signup and will, in all likelihood, never open your app again.

Cost of an API outage - onboarding funnel

At a Cost-per-Install of $2 USD, you will have wasted $20k USD on user acquisition alone. Filtering the impact of this outage through your onboarding funnel, you will be down 500 subscribers, which will have a knock-on impact on your subscription revenue. Not to mention the impact that negative reviews will have on increasing your CPI next month!

Reducing the cost of an API outage on your mobile app

Friday afternoon, everyone is winding down for the weekend with thoughts of beers, pizza and Netflix… and then the phone rings… the app is crashing on launch. And just like that, everyone’s weekend just got a lot less fun. This is not an unusual story.

While the ultimate cause of the crash may, as we have discussed, be nothing to do with your code or even the app itself, the fact that your client or customer, marketing team or even end user finds out about the crash before you does not reflect well on you as a mobile app developer. Therefore, it is essential that you proactively monitor the availability of the API endpoints that your app depends on to function so you are alerted as soon as a problem occurs.

There are a number of different paid and free tools on the market that do this. However, when choosing a tool, pick one that not only checks the availability of the API endpoint, but also inspects the shape of the payload returned. The API does not need to be down in order to cause a problem for your app – depending how your app has been built, even a minor change in the payload shape can cause problems.

Also, make sure that the tool you choose has the option to alert you, for example via Slack, as soon as a problem occurs so you can start to act. The very first thing you need to do is communicate. Let your client or customer, marketing team and end users know there is a problem and that you are investigating. Everyone understands that outages can happen, this will reassure them that your processes are robust and that you are in control.

Cost of an API outage - Slack alerts

Next, stop any user acquisition campaigns. There is no point wasting money driving traffic to the stores when users who download the app may have a sub-optimal experience. You can easily turn them back on once the problem is resolved.

Monitor and pro-actively respond to reviews on the app stores. Again, end users will understand that outages can happen. How you respond will reassure them and minimize the impact of negative reviews on downloads and therefore your cost-per-install.

Finally, monitor Daily Active Users (DAU) and funnel conversion through the key user journeys in your app. This is actually always good practice as subtle changes, for example in the time taken to complete each step, can have a very big impact on conversion. When everyone is fire-fighting during an outage, it is essential you can quantify where and what impact this is having throughout your entire app to ensure there are no side-effects after it is resolved.

In summary, the way modern software is built, means that outages can and will happen. As a mobile app developer, you need to be prepared for this and ensure that you know of the problem as soon as it happens. That way, you can be proactive and take all necessary action to reduce the cost of an API outage on your mobile app.

Want to know more?

The Kumulos platform gives mobile app developers a single-pane-of-glass through which they can manage the commercial and technical performance of their mobile apps, and the APIs they depend on to function. Contact us for a no-obligation demo or take us for a spin yourself and sign up for a free trial.

Increase Retention with Push Notifications

Increase retention with push notifications - compose

In this article we’re going to look at some very simple things you can do to increase retention with push notifications. However, before we start, lets be absolutely clear what we are talking about…

 

What is retention?

There are a number of different ways of measuring retention. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on Snapshot Retention, which shows how well an app is retaining users in the period immediately after they download it. In other words, how many users actually use the app in the days after they installed it. Typically expressed as a percentage and shown as a table, retention answers the question “What percentage of new users are still actively using the app after 7 days or 30 days?” etc.

While the overall percentage is important, analytics tools such as Kumulos also then allow you to drill down and see how retention varies between different groups of users (called cohorts) such as country or platform, which can highlight actions to take to improve. For example: if 7 day retention is higher on iOS than Android, then you should check you don’t have any crashes on Android and that the onboarding flow is as straight-forward as in your iOS app.

Increase retention with push notifications - 7-day retention

Why is retention important?

Every mobile app is built for a specific purpose. Whether a loyalty app (to increase sales), an mHealth app (to increase adherence to prescribed medication) or a utility provider app (to increase digital engagement over contacting the call centre), every mobile app was conceived and exists for a specific goal. However, no matter what problem your mobile app is trying to solve, it will only be successful in doing so if it has an active audience who are engaged with the app. So before you can think about engagement campaigns and conversion, you must first build that audience.

Building an audience requires two things – new user acquisition (downloads) and retention. Now, everyone knows that acquiring new users is hard – there is an entire ecosystem of product and service companies dedicated to helping target users find and download your app. No surprise then that this is where most of the effort and budget is spent. However, retention is equally important and just as difficult. Why spend all that time and money acquiring new users only to neglect them once they have downloaded and installed the app and have to start all over again?

So retention is absolutely critical if a mobile app is to deliver a Return on Investment (RoI).

What does good look like?

Unfortunately, there is no magic number that retention should be although obviously the higher the better. Different apps will have different usage patterns depending on their purpose and this will not only impact retention at different periods, but determine what period you should choose to measure retention against. For an enterprise mobility app that employees use to submit weekly expenses, 7-day, 14-day and 30-day retention will be far more relevant than 1-day, 3-day and 5-day for example.

In addition, retention will be impacted by the quality (relevance) of the new users (think leads) that you acquire (which is in turn impacted by how and where you acquire them – another reason why looking at retention across different cohorts is important – but that’s another topic).

As a typical rule of thumb though, 30% retention at 30 days would be considered good, subject to all of the health warnings above.

Let’s talk money

What cannot be disputed though is that it costs more, a lot more, as much as 700% more to acquire new users than it does to retain existing users. Yet, Bain and Company estimate that just a 5% increase in retention, can result in anything between a 5% to 95% increase in RoI. As your job as a mobile app developer is to deliver the best possible outcome for your clients, while working within their budget constraints, it comes down to simple economics – retaining users costs less and is more effective than acquiring new users.

The good news is that there are some very simple things you can do to increase retention with push notifications and retain more of those hard won users for longer.

Increase retention with push notifications

To increase retention with push notifications you need to:

  • Be proactive – use your retention data to time push campaigns just before users typically drop off
  • Be attentive – if a user falls out of the onboarding flow, use a push notification to draw them back in
  • Be persistent – don’t be afraid to remind users they have the app installed
  • Be smart – target different audience segments with content relevant to them

Be proactive

The first way to increase retention with push notifications is to proactively use your retention data to your advantage. Like jokes, when it comes to push notifications, timing is everything! Your retention table will show you when the major drop offs occur. Don’t be disheartened, you now know exactly when users could benefit from a little nudge or reminder to keep using your app and therefore when a push notification will be most effective!

Setup an automated Push Notification campaign triggered when a user first opens the app with actions to send push notifications that fire on the days when the user is most at risk of dropping off.

Increase retention with push notifications - onboarding campaign

If done correctly, this will change, if not eliminate the drop-offs so it is important to continually snapshot retention and adjust the timing of your push notification campaigns accordingly.

Be attentive

Whether opening a mobile app or going on a date, we all know the importance of making a good first impression. As such, UI/UX spend a lot of time on the onboarding flow, which is the right thing to do. However, the real world has an annoying habit of getting in the way. Don’t assume that your onboarding flow will necessarily work for everyone. Users can also get interrupted and might not get round to coming back.

Increase retention with push notifications - funnelSo, setup a funnel to measure how many new users convert through the onboarding process. If you observe a significant drop-off at a particular step, then of course you should review this step and your onboarding flow. However, that will take time (and any improvement will only impact new users who download the updated app). What about the users who have already downloaded the app, but not yet completed the onboarding flow? Well, setup an automated push campaign to target those who drop-off (fail to convert to the next step) within a sensible timeframe.

A gentle reminder to go back and complete that thing we were doing before we got interrupted can be highly effective (and appreciated).

Be persistent (within reason)

All users who downloaded, installed and then opened your app did so because they were motivated to do it. They thought the app would help them with a specific purpose or solve a specific problem and indeed it probably did for a period of time. However, just like the seasons, user behaviour changes and an app that was recently a vital part of someone’s daily routine can find itself unused.

However, their original motivation for downloading the app will likely still be there, so before you consider these users to have churned, create a segment to target users who have not opened the app recently to try and entice them back in. How long to leave it will very much depend on the expected usage pattern of the app. However, obviously, the longer you leave it, the less successful it is likely to be.

Success rates of campaigns such as this may be low and may lead to some uninstalls as some users’ circumstances will have changed and they may no longer need the app for the purpose it was intended. However, every user retained is one less new user you need to acquire and given the relative cost of running such a campaign this is a very worthwhile thing to do.

Be smart

When building your app, you will have considered the personas of the different users you hope will use your app and designed a different user experience relevant and appropriate for each. So, why would you not do the same when sending a push notification campaign?

If you have instrumented your app with custom event analytics and associated attributes with the users of your app then you know exactly which persona a user fits and what they have done within your app. You can use all of this to create different audience segments and send each content that is appropriate and relevant to them.

Increase retention with push notifications - audience segment

You can also give users a say on what content you send them by subscribing them to the different content channels they opt-in to receive.

Whatever approach you take to increase retention with push notifications, remember one-size doesn’t fit all and targeted, personalized content will always out-perform generic, catch-all messages.

Further Reading

For more hints and tips on how to increase retention with push notifications, see this excellent piece written by Cristina Stefanova from specialist ASO and Mobile App Marketing agency, TheTool.

While we have been focussing on Snapshot Retention, in a previous blog post we discussed the different strategies for measuring retention.

If you want to implement the approaches discussed above in your mobile app, the multi-award-winning Kumulos platform contains all the tools you need to measure and increase retention with push notifications. Request a Demo or signup for a Free 30 Day Trial.

Google Play Store Algorithm

Google play store algorithm for recommendations

A recent update to the Google Play Store algorithm used to recommend apps means that what happens after someone has downloaded and installed your app is as important as how they found it. Crash rates, retention and engagement are now every bit as important as ASO when it comes to discoverability.

What happened?

During the second half of June, several developers started to notice a sudden and dramatic drop in new installs of their apps. With free-to-play games worst affected, initial reports were on reddit threads and the unity forums. However, as more and more apps started to experience a big drop in new installs (and the developers of these apps started to realise they weren’t panicking alone), the issue started to be more widely reported. It was even picked up by mainstream media.

Google Play Store Algorithm update

On 29 June, Google released a blog post confirming that there had indeed been a change to the Google Play Store Algorithm used to recommend apps. Titled “Improving discovery of quality apps and games on the Play Store”, the post states the aim of the update is to “help people find and discover safe, high quality, and relevant apps”.

Over the last year, we’ve been enhancing our search and discovery algorithms’ consideration of app quality and user engagement. This means that apps and games that have high retention rates, low crash rates, low uninstalls, and many other factors, are recommended more often.

Recently, we increased the importance of engagement and app quality in our recommendation systems and users reacted favorably to the changes. With more high quality titles being surfaced in the Play Store’s recommendations, people are playing the games they download more often.

So, App Store Optimization alone can no longer be used to maximize the discoverability of your app. You must ensure that your app is a high quality app. But what does this mean in practice? Read on…

Crash Reporting

The first measure of quality is the crash rate. If you only take one thing from this article, then please let it be the importance of eliminating crashes from your app.

Google Play Store Algorithm - Crash Reporting

Kumulos Crash Reporting alerts you when errors and exceptions occur in your app. Kumulos groups together related issues and provides you with all of the information you need to pro-actively prioritize, diagnose and fix issues before they negatively impact reviews, retention, and now  discoverability.

Retention

The next measure of quality is retention. Of the people who download and install your app, how many are actively using your app one, two… seven or thirty days later? Earlier in the year, we discussed ways to increase retention. One such way is automated push notification campaigns timed to target users when they are most likely to drop-off (e.g. five days after install). Key of course to all of this is knowing what the retention rate for your app looks like. Kumulos Analytics will show you seven and thirty day retention and let you drill down to see how this varies across cohorts such as date, platform and country.

Google Play Store Algorithm - Retention

Engagement

Google Play Store Algorithm - EngagementThe final measure of quality (at least as far as the Google Play Store Algorithm is concerned) is how engaged users are with your app. But again, before you can improve engagement, you need to know what it looks like first. How often do people use your app? How long for? When and on what days? What features do they use?

By integrating the same Kumulos SDK that gives you Crash Reporting and Retention rates, you can also get Engagement Analytics that will answer these questions for you.

Google Play Store Algorithm - Conversion

If the answers to these questions are not entirely to your liking, then look at the common user journeys in your app. How many people start a journey? How many complete? How long did it take?  Where do people drop-off? Kumulos Conversion Analytics lets you build funnels to track and optimize conversion through key user journeys in your app to increase engagement (and therefore discoverability).

App Store Optimization

While the Google Play Store Algorithm used to recommend apps may have changed, App Store Optimization remains an essential part of maximizing the discoverability of your app. Kumulos ASO gives you a quick and easy way to track keyword rankings, reviews and star ratings over-time versus your competitors.

In Summary

The change to the Google Play Store Algorithm used to recommend apps is undoubtedly a good thing for us users as it will, in Google’s own words, “help us discover high quality apps”. For developers, Google have simply raised the bar. No longer can you rely on App Store Optimization alone for discoverability. You must also lower crash rates, improve retention and increase engagement to ensure your app is considered to be a high quality app by the Google Play Store Algorithm and recommended as a result.

While there are several products that can help with any one aspect of this, Kumulos is the only platform that, from a single SDK, gives you App Store Optimization, Crash Reporting, Audience, Retention and Engagement Analytics as well as Automated Push Notifications. Why? Because we believe that it is the interplay between them all that helps make an app a success. And now Google do too.

Integrate Kumulos into your app and see for yourself with a free 30-day trial.

Further reading

This isn’t the first and won’t be the last change to the Google Play Store Algorithm. The successful apps will therefore be those that evolve and adapt fastest. In our post on creating a post-launch plan for a successful mobile app  we examine why this is not new thinking and the lessons you can learn from the web, sport, the military and even Darwin to create a post-launch plan you can execute at speed!

Push Notifications in iOS 12

Push Notifications in iOS 12

Earlier this week, Apple’s annual developer conference, WWDC 2018, took place in San Jose, CA. In response to pressure from shareholders and amid concern over the impact smartphone addiction can have on mental health, particularly in young people, Apple announced a range of features in iOS 12 to help users better understand and control screen time and reduce interruptions by managing how Push Notifications in iOS 12 are received.

Here we take a quick look at the key changes to Push Notifications in iOS 12 and how you should adjust your push notification strategy to maximise conversion.

Do Not Disturb during Bedtime

iOS 12 includes a number of enhancements to Do Not Disturb, designed to help keep you in the moment by eliminating interruptions during class or an important meeting. This includes a new Do Not Disturb during Bedtime mode designed to help you get a better night’s sleep by dimming the display and hiding all notifications on the lock screen until prompted in the morning.

Push Notifications in iOS 12 - Bedtime Mode

This makes it is even more important to schedule Push Notifications in iOS 12 for the right time, otherwise many users may not see them. Kumulos includes engagement analytics that show what times during the day and what days of the week an app is most often used. This can then be used to schedule push notifications for a time when users of an app will be receptive to receiving them (importantly relative to their local time zone) to maximize conversion.

Manage Push Notifications in iOS 12

Another featureof iOS 12 designed to help reduce untimely interruptions is the new “Manage notifications” feature that allows you to more easily control what and how Push Notifications in iOS 12 are received.

Push Notifications in iOS 12 - Manage Notifications

You can Turn Off notifications completely or choose “Deliver Quietly” directly from the notification center. Selecting “Deliver Quietly” will mean notifications from that app will no longer show up on the lock screen, make a sound or vibrate. Instead, they will silently appear in the notification center with add a badge added to the app icon.

Again, this highlights the importance of scheduling Push Notifications in iOS 12 for a time when users of an app will be receptive to receiving them.

Grouped Notifications

Push Notifications in iOS 12, will now be grouped together, reducing visual clutter and making it easier to view and manage multiple notifications at once. This is good news as it increases the chance that users will see notifications from different applications as they will no longer be pushed down by apps like iMessage that send frequent notifications.

Push Notifications in iOS 12 - Group Notifications

This is a good opportunity to revisit the push notification strategy in an app. How many notifications does an app send? Will they be grouped together? Are they therefore all likely to be read? Are important notifications in an app being hidden behind trivial notifications? Perhaps it might be more appropriate to use the badge instead?

Siri suggestions

Siri will now monitor how you interact with Push Notifications in iOS 12 and, if you do not interact with notifications for a particular app, suggest that you change the notification settings for that app to “Deliver Quietly” or “Turn Off”.

Push Notifications in iOS 12 - Siri

This again shows how important it is that the push notification strategy for an app targets appropriate and engaging content at a receptive audience. With Kumulos, you can use channels to categorize the content you send and let users subscribe to content relevant to them and build audience segments to target specific users of your app based on analytics.

The tech industry has been much maligned over its attitude towards its customers recently, so it is refreshing to see Apple put their well-being first, albeit driven by pressure from their investors. iOS 12 will be available in the fall although the developer preview is available now and a public beta program will be available later this month.

Push notifications in iOS 12 can still be an effective way to keep users engaged with an app. However, the push notification strategy for an app must be carefully designed. Send too many notifications and they might be grouped together or delivered quietly. But send irrelevant content, or at the wrong time and they might be turned off all together!

Push Notifications in iOS 12 - Measure Conversion

Think about how to send relevant and engaging content to a receptive audience at a time they will want to interact with it. Kumulos’ Push Notifications feature has the tools to do this and the analytics and reports to measure and maximize conversion.

Signup for a free 30 day trial of Kumulos today.

Mobile World Congress 2018

As day one of Mobile World Congress (the largest mobile conference of the year) draws to a close, we are starting to get a pretty good idea of the trends that will dominate our industry for the year to come.

The much anticipated product launches from the major Android handset manufacturers that traditionally open the show are back once again. This year Samsung (who noticeably sat last year out while they rectified their exploding battery problem) joined in with their latest flagship model, the Galaxy S9, offering a new and improved super-slow motion camera. Nokia have again re-introduced a retro classic in the 8110 (as featured in the Matrix), alongside the ‘unbendable’ (their words, not mine) steel framed Scirocco that runs pure Android. Sony meanwhile has focussed on the gamers as the Xperia XZ2 rumbles in much the same way as a PS4 controller.

While the above are incremental improvements (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that), some new trends are starting to gain commercial traction (judging by this year’s exhibiters at least). Augmented Reality is breaking out of the box that Pokemon Go inadvertently put it in, with several stands offering industrial and commercial solutions – I fully expect Mozenix to be joining us in Barcelona next year.

Another theme that has a noticeably larger presence this year is Geolocation with companies such as Sensewhere offering indoor location solutions for enterprise and Beacon Inside offering retailers the data that could lead to the holy grail of knowing where a customer is combined with what they want to buy when they are actually there!

As was wonderfully illustrated in the film Minority Report, this could potentially present some problems (assuming you are Tom Cruise) which would explain why so many companies are offering to secure and protect your digital identity online. They are still out-numbered by the number of companies offering App Publishers their holy grail of targeting acquisition at the audience of related apps. Will be very interesting to see if Verizon’s new AOL/Yahoo combo Oath can deliver on its promise of brand safety at scale.

One solution that could solve all of this is of course blockchain (not BitCoin or other crypto-currencies, which are a different thing built on top of blockchain). For the first time specialist blockchain solution providers such as Wallet Services were exhibiting at Mobile World Congress 2018. I expect they will be back and will have much more company next year!

However, as with Mobile World Congress 2017, 5G is once again dominating the overall show. While the actual rollout remains two years away, at least, what is interesting is that the focus is starting to turn towards performance monitoring and management. Not just traditional carrier-level Quality-of-Service Assurance but across the entire… and I mean the entire technology stack!

Over the next three days, I’ll be meeting three different agencies (and there’s another two more on my hit-list) who specialize in helping their clients optimize the performance of the app listing in the stores. Ciqual can tell you the latency your app experiences on different carriers. 51Degrees can tell you what it experiences on different hardware and chipsets. The massive bandwidth of 5G will be of little comfort to a user if their app is crashing.

Which is why Kumulos is happy to be back here on the Scotland stand in Hall 7. From what I can see, no other platform gives developers the complete visibility of how their app is performing technically, how this is impacting their audience and the analytics to power automated, targeted push campaigns to increase user engagement. As a result, I have a very busy few days ahead meeting software development companies at Mobile World Congress to show them how Kumulos can help them win more projects, retain their clients and grow their app development business.

Speaking of the Scotland stand, it was great to see so many other different countries sponsoring stands and bringing delegates that would otherwise not be able to afford to exhibit at Mobile World Congress… Brazil, Columbia, Morocco, Tunisia, France, Denmark… the list just goes on. Economic development agencies around the world provide a valuable service for companies in their country and if you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to reach out to your local representative.

What was also good to see was a noticeable decline in “Booth babes” as the mobile industry, like others, finally modernizes to align with the times. This doesn’t necessarily mean there were fewer female delegates at Mobile World Congress. It just means that we’re getting close to a fair situation where all delegates attending are there because of what they know and what they do rather than how they look.

However, the biggest thing I have taken away from Mobile World Congress 2018 is that our collective appetite to socialize, do commerce and conduct business within mobile apps is undiminished. From healthcare to enterprise mobility, the growth we have seen in apps shows no signs of stopping. This presents both opportunities and challenges for the software development companies who specialize in building apps. As the space becomes more crowded and clients’ and users’ expectations rise, it is those developers who can demonstrate how they work with their clients to optimize an app once it has been launched who will prosper.

While many exhibitors have commented that footfall may be down on previous years, that may not necessarily be a bad thing – quality of interaction is preferable to quantity of interaction and, judging by how full my calendar is for the next two days, I certainly think that Mobile World Congress is worthwhile attending.

Final thought for anyone who might be thinking of attending Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2019… please be aware that Universitat and Universitaria are two completely different Metro stations… much of this post was written on the Metro re-tracing my steps back towards my hotel once I realised!

How to Create a Post-launch Plan for a Successful Mobile app

Successful Mobile App - Engagement

How do you build a successful mobile app?

Seems like a reasonable question, right? Judging by how quickly Google auto-complete filled it in for me, seems like a question people search for with some frequency. So, how do you build a successful app? Is there a secret formula to guarantee your new app will be successful?

Well, as you can imagine, how to build a successful mobile app is not an easy question to answer. Few apps are an immediate overnight success. Not necessarily through a lack of adequate planning or doing something wrong when building the mobile app. But because there simply is no way to guarantee when you build the mobile app that it will be successful.

In fact, the question how to build a successful mobile app is not the question you should be asking. What you should be asking is ‘What should I do after my app has launched to make it successful?’. You see, the successful mobile apps, are those that evolve and adapt fastest. In this blog article, we’ll examine why this is not new thinking and the lessons you can learn from the web, sport, the military and even Darwin to create a post-launch plan you can execute at speed.

Launch Day

You’ve worked hard to get to this point. You’ve conducted the user interviews, iterated over countless prototypes first on the whiteboard, then paper and finally the Invision clickable prototype for the focus group. You’ve then had to be patient sprint after sprint, waiting for the app in development to start to resemble the expectations you have now set. You’ve made the hard choices of the scope to cut to make sure you hit the date and you’ve personally helped QA test the app on numerous different Apple and Android form factors. You’re exhausted but you’ve made it. Over to marketing now to acquire those users.

But there’s a problem. Marketing say everything’s fine and they’re hitting their user acquisition targets. Indeed, according to the stores, downloads do look good (for once the department of truth extension were right)! But whenever you check active user numbers (please tell me analytics integration didn’t get cut – its one, okay three, lines of code!), they are a fraction of that. Why? Is there a mistake? Is something broken? How could this be?

VUCA

VUCA. That’s why. But, what on earth is VUCA!? No, its not the name of the latest Snapchat clone where all the kids are at. VUCA has been taught in American Military Colleges since the mid-nineties, and it stands for:

  • VOLATILE
  • UNCERTAIN
  • COMPLEX
  • AMBIGUOUS

As James Kerr wrote in the excellent book Legacy, “VUCA describes a world prone to sudden change, unknown consequence and complex, shifting interrelationships; one that is difficult to decipher, impossible to predict”. While James Kerr may be drawing a parallel between modern warfare and professional Rugby Union, VUCA is equally applicable to business and mobile app development – just read through some reviews on the app store if you don’t believe me!

Users register with their Google account and then try and sign in with Facebook ID. They add items to their basket and don’t checkout. They drop their phone down the toilet but complain if the app on their new phone doesn’t pick up exactly where they left off. They ask for new features but then don’t update the app!

Meanwhile upstream services have outages, API payloads change and some ISPs randomly strip HTTP headers! iOS kills your app whenever its moved to the background and with each successive release of Android, you have to prompt the user for more and more permissions.

Successful Mobile App - responding to a punch

VUCA indeed!

So, what are you going to do about it?

As Mike Tyson famously said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”

OODA

Again, not the name of a new social network (well, not yet at least), OODA is how American fighter pilots are trained to cope in a VUCA world.

  • OBSERVE
  • ORIENT
  • DECIDE
  • ACT

OODA is continuous feedback cycle that is quick to apply to many decision-making situations, including your new job of optimizing your app to drive up engagement…

Collect and observe both the commercial and technical metrics for your app (no matter, how painful they may be initially to look at). Analyze and orient yourself with why the metrics are what they are. Decide what action you are going to take to improve the metric(s). Act. Fast.

Speed Wins!

An analysis of the dogfights during the Korean war by military strategist John R. Boyd found that the pilots who got into the OODA loop first, were the ones that survived.

successful mobile app build measure learnCharles Darwin discovered that the successful species are those that evolve to adapt to their changing environment. Again, survival of the fittest.

In The Lean Startup, Eric Reiss explains the need to shorten the time through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback cycle.

Steve Kaufer, the Trip Advisor founder, famously had a sign ‘Speed wins’ on his office door.

If you want your mobile app to be a successful mobile app, plan to observe, orient, decide and act quickly once the app is launched.

The post-launch plan for a successful mobile app

successful mobile app crash reportingFirst up, Crash Reporting! What percentage of the users that your marketing department worked so hard to acquire, are experiencing crashes? Find out if this is iOS or Android and on which device, make sure your developer has the stack trace to diagnose the cause. Fix it and publish the update. Quickly.

If you only do one thing, then please make sure it is this. There is no point trying to improve other metrics or analytics if your app is crashing.

Next, new user acquisition and retention. These metrics must be considered together. Let the marketing department boast about downloads. But, on its own, user acquisition is, as Eric Reiss would say, a vanity metric. What percentage of new users are still actively using the app after 1 day, 7 days, 30 days etc. If this is not as high as you would like, ask why. Is that crash putting them off? Is the onboarding process too long? Decide what to do to try and improve it, and update.

Daily active users – how many people actively use the app each day. What devices are they using? Where in the world are they? Is this what you were expecting? Any surprises? What could you do for all the Android users in New Orleans to capitalize on the unexpected popularity of your app in The Big Easy?

Successful Mobile App - Engagement

When during the day and week is your app used most often? How many sessions per day and how long? Again, is this what you would expect? Why are there so many night owls using your app on iPads!?

There are of course other commercial and technical metrics you may want to consider…

How does your app rank in the App Store and Play Store for the key terms you think your target users will search for? How does this compare to competitors? Could you optimize the listing to make it rank better?

How many users subscribe to receive push notifications? If this is low, perhaps prompting them when they first open the app is premature? Consider doing this later when they see some value?

However, other than keeping crash free installs low, there are no right metrics or magic numbers that these should be for your app. Obviously the higher the better, but an app designed to help delegates navigate a conference, will have very different retention rates to a consumer facing event app. You need to decide what success looks like and what commercial and technical metrics to aim for to satisfy that.

Whatever you do, don’t panic, very few apps are an immediate overnight success. It is going to take time, but it won’t happen by itself – you need a post-launch plan that you can execute quickly.

WhatsApp

This time, I am actually referring to the social network where all the kids are at. WhatsApp was originally released in 2009, but without support for groups, what is now one of its most popular features. Groups weren’t added until 2011 and even then, were originally limited to 15 members (limit is now 256).

The ease with which you can create new groups and add members to organise car shares, kids birthday parties, nights out, holidays, sports clubs and everything in-between is undoubtedly one the drivers behind its popularity and acquisition by Facebook.

Brian Acton and Jan Koum who founded WhatsApp clearly executed their post-launch plan to make a successful mobile app. So whether its Lean Startup Build-Measure-Learn, or Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, if you want your app to become a successful mobile app, you need a post-launch plan that you can execute fast.

KUMULOS WEBINARS

And if you’re looking for even more app business tips – be sure to come take part of our Kumulos webinar series. These webinars are always free and typically at the end of the month. You can take a look at some of our past webinars and register for the next one here!

The Challenges App Agencies Face in 2017

MWC 17 - The Challenges App Agencies Face

One of the questions we are often asked at Kumulos is what are the challenges app agencies face in 2017? Well, where better to find out than in Barcelona as, once a year, over one hundred thousand people who work in mobile telecomms, handsets and apps descend on the Gran Via conference centre for the spectacle that is Mobile World Congress.

In amongst the glitz and glamour of the latest handsets, drones, VR headsets and IoT sensors are the mobile app development agencies who are at the heart of this industry, constantly driving innovation forward with their expectant clients. App agencies don’t just come to Mobile World Congress to win new business, they come to look at new trends in technology and consider how these trends will impact their clients and therefore themselves. I was lucky enough to spend four days in Barcelona with some of the world’s top mobile app development agencies and discuss this with them and, now that a week has passed and the dust has settled, can reflect on the main challenges app agencies face in 2017.

While the technology itself may change, keeping abreast of the latest technology is always one of the challenges mobile app agencies face in 2017. Colin Sykes, Digital Account Manager at XDesign who speciliaze in helping clients vizualize big data on a small screen says that, for them, “Educating customers on everything that is becoming possible with big data sets on mobile” is a constant challenge. The Edinburgh based agency has solved what Colin sees as one of the biggest challenges app agencies face in 2017 by holding Design Sprints with clients in order to, as Colin put it, “Fully bake the idea”.

In a busy, time constrained, mobile app development agency, proactive client education is often overlooked. As Karl Sakas from agency specialists Sakas And Company wrote in a recent blog post, one-to-one client education “has a place for unique situations, but not for your most-asked questions. Do your core client education on a one-to-many basis.”

This all resonates with Emily Horgan, Mobile Experience Consultant at Bemo. “Knowing the right technologies to focus on is one of the challenges app agencies face in 2017. Customers may think they want an Alexa app but is Amaxon Echo really the right technology for them? At Bemo, we try and see past the technology and focus on the problem we are solving for them and finding the right solution for that via User Research and Design Sprints. This approach will guarantee a successful outcome for the customer.”

The value of such Design Sprints is not to be underestimated and it is therefore no surprise that successful mobile app agencies now have the confidence to charge for a service that, in days gone by, they would have effectively given away for free during the tendering process. The London office of global digital agency Mirum are even offering a free Innovation Sprint as differentiator for prospective clients.

But as networks get faster and handsets become more powerful, mobile app agencies have to know what is possible in order to be the trusted advisor for both existing and new clients. The justifiable hype around Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) is why keeping abreast of latest tech trends is one the main challenges app agencies face in 2017.

For Ross Tuffee, CEO of DogFi.sh Mobile, “Identifying the specific use-case around IoT” is the biggest challenge app agencies face in 2017 “Why should I connect my toaster to the Internet?” for example (other than the obvious use case of course of alerting your personal trainer when you succumb to a couple of slices of toast an hour after your last HIIT session!).

The relative immaturity of these new technologies does not help easily solve the challenges app agencies face in 2017. Dan Burgar, President of the Vancouver chapter of the VR/AR Association and Business Development Director of VR studio ArchiactVR, bemoans the lack of analytics in Virtual Reality. “It is still early and widespread adoption hasn’t hit yet, but when it does, customers will want to know where are users looking in the experience and what can we do better? Also, think about the importance of this data for advertising purposes for example. No one is really doing this.”

So was attending Mobile World Congress worthwhile for busy mobile development app agencies and has being there helped them solve these challenges app agencies face in 2017?

For some, this is indeed an important part of why they came to MWC 2017, and will come back to MWC 2018 next year. Taavi Tammiste, Head of Data Science at the Estonian based, software and product development company Mooncascade. “We don’t just come to Mobile World Congress to find customers, we want to find partners who can help us improve our business”.

I went to ask Rory Mudie of New York and London based App Store Optimization specialists Redbox Mobile, if Mobile World Congress had been worthwhile. As he would only answer my question if I agreed to accompany him on a tour of the App Planet exhibition while he was looking for ideas for their stand for MWC 2018, I’ll take that as a resounding “Yes!”.

However, as Vuk Pupovic, CEO of Serbia based Web Development and IT Consulting firm Quantox Technology, reminded me; Yes, the technical challenges app agencies face in 2017 are not insignificant, but as long as the outsource app development market remains an extremely fast-growing, hot market to be in with no shortage of demand for their services, the business challenges app agencies face in 2017 are even more important to solve if app agencies are to exploit this opportunity. “To be honest, I haven’t really had a chance to think about where we will be at the end of 2017 – I’ve been too busy attending shows, following up on leads, onboarding new clients and hiring new staff.”

So, while the likes of AR/VR and IoT are technical challenges app agencies face in 2017, mobile app development agencies have very good track record of rising to new technical challenges and also have a solid plan centered around User Research and Design Sprints to guide their customers to the right solution for them. Therefore, are the biggest challenges app agencies face in 2017 the even more familiar business challenges?

Gustavo De La Vega, Founder and CEO of Colombian agency NativApps certainly thinks so “We have customers that operate in a wide range of industries including health care, telecomms and logistics to name a few. Every market has different challenges but if you ask me about one that’s common in all industries, it would be managing the customer relationship and the experience that your customer has with your product or service. NativApps Inc has grown at 15% per month for each of the last 16 months and we want to consolidate our presence in Europe. Definitely keeping that pace of growth is a huge challenge for us.”

So it would seem that it is indeed the business challenges app agencies face in 2017 that are the most important for them to solve if they are to continue exploit the massive opportunity that lies ahead for them. Many mobile app development agencies like Chelsea Apps Factory, one of the UK’s largest app agencies, grow by working with clients as digital partner on a retainer bases to constantly measure and optimize app performance in order to deliver real business impact for their clients. I asked Mike Anderson, CEO of CAF, if he had confidence in their ability to rise to the business challenges ahead and of their prospects for 2017. His response? Quite simply… “Very!”