Questioning the Value of Apps

We all know it’s an ‘app world’ now, and that users love the simplicity of one-trick apps that elegantly do things they want to do. But the following article brings up a lot of reasons why apps aren’t always so great. It begins by questioning why the majority of apps are even created in the first place. It also touches on the many problems that come with app development versus developing for the web for mobile platforms — problems that usually result in frustration due to greatly reduced feature sets and restrictive interfaces from what users are accustomed to on websites.

Have you ever tried actually using the Amazon app on iOS, Android, and Windows? … the Amazon app is a frustrating morass of missing and incomplete functions from the website. Sure, maybe you don’t need the full breadth of Amazon functions on your phone, though that’s debatable on a tablet. But natural web conveniences like opening links in new tabs, sharing links, the back button, searching within the page, and zooming in and out are available inconsistently, if at all.

And of course there’s the issue of privacy. What exactly are some of these apps accessing on your device? And how much additional data can they collect when users choose an app over the website?

Ultimately people will choose the best experience. Just because you offer an app doesn’t mean anyone will want it. App strategies must offer something totally unique, or so useful that users can’t live without it. Convenience on mobile devices is a good reason for creating an app, but not if it is so ill-thought out that users become frustrated.

Personally, I use lots of apps — mostly clever utilities that allow my devices to do cool or useful things like photo editing, FTP or synchronized note taking. But I usually reject apps and just use websites when it comes to information, e-commerce and search. I even resist mobile versions of websites, since I find most of them so feature-restricted and inconsistent with their full web counterparts. In fact, my favorite link on most mobile websites is the ‘view desktop version’ link, usually found at the bottom — present if the website owner understands that  users want to decide how to interact with them.

It may be an ‘app world,’ but that doesn’t mean that every app is necessary or even good. My advice is to not create an app for its own sake. But do create one when you can offer something so good that there’s no other way to deliver it.

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