Mobile and Cloud Converge to Change the App Landscape . . .
. . . What Does that Mean for your Business?
This guest post is authored by Jeff Vance, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Startup.50, a site devoted to identifying hot new startups. Jeff also regularly contributes feature stories to CIO, Forbes.com, Network World and many other publications.
Smartphones are taking over, rapidly pushing desktops off of their perch as the go-to computing device. According to information gathered from telcos and network operators and compiled by consulting firm Chetan Sharma, smartphone penetration in the U.S. passed the 50 percent barrier (versus feature phones) for the first time last year.
A study by Litmus found that 38 percent of emails are now opened on mobile devices, and ComScore’s new Mobile Metrix 2.0 report found that most users prefer to access social networks from smartphones, and when they access these networks on their phones, they prefer to do so via apps rather than a browser.
At the same time, cloud computing is quickly becoming mainstream. It’s catching on quickly with consumers (Dropbox, Google Docs, Spotify) and businesses alike (Box, Evernote, Salesforce.com, Marketo).
As these trends converge – and they are indeed converging, since the cloud helps mobilize apps, protecting constrained devices from heavy on-board processing and large amounts of device-side storage – many pundits are worrying about how this will affect businesses productivity.
Mobile apps usage is driven by a quality user experience
To ensure success for mobile apps, users need fast, affordable, comprehensive application testing. According to a study by Nuance Enterprise, while Android and iOS users now download about 10 apps each month, 95 percent of apps are abandoned within a month of download. The two main reasons apps were abandoned were slow response times (to launch, load or connect) and poor usability.
Developers are under extreme pressure to mobilize existing apps, create new mobile apps, and port various mobile apps to new platforms. In the process, many, many apps get into the hands of consumers well before they should.
Personally, I uninstall most mobile apps after trying them for the first time and finding that they freeze, crash my phone or just don’t perform well. If I uninstall apps more than once from a specific developer, there’s a good chance I won’t ever download their apps again.
This isn’t always the fault of developers. According to the initial findings from an ongoing Aberdeen survey, The Challenge of Application Performance in a Mobile Application World, providing mobile access to existing applications is the number-one app-related concern for nearly 70 percent of organizations. Yet, only thirty percent have implemented any kind of mobile application testing and performance assurance infrastructure.
In other words, the emphasis is on getting apps out the door. You can worry about performance later. The sad truth is that this is consistent with the history of software development, where products are shipped with scores of known bugs and developers then release endless updates and patches.
Lack of testing could alienate users – forever
Plenty of app developers do test but do it in a rushed way. Many developers believe that they only have the time to run limited lab tests. The pressure to get something, anything, out there is so great in the mobile world that what used to be alpha or beta releases are now published as if they were the final release. Many developers believe it is okay to put apps into app stores – especially if the app is free – in order to attract early adopters to serve as testers – often without the knowledge that they are serving as testers.
I downloaded a billiards app, for instance, to help me track my shots and determine which ones I missed most often. Then, I’d know what to work on in practice sessions. In its current iteration, the app stinks. I’ve given the developer feedback and I’m willing to give the company a chance to work out the kinks – but only for two reasons.
One, there’s really not another app like it in the Android Marketplace. Two, the stakes are low.
If there were a different option on the market, I would have asked for my money back and moved on. If this were a business-critical app, I would have uninstalled the app, given it a bad review and searched for an alternative.
Not everyone gives even low-stakes, free apps the benefit of the doubt because user expectations keep rising. High-quality free apps from Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Hootsuite, etc. mean that users expect more.
User experience is driving the success or failure of apps and usability is now a major competitive advantage.
Mobile testing must involve real-world scenarios
Fortunately, the industry is waking up to the need for more robust mobile testing. A couple of months ago, I evaluated more than 150 mobile startups for Network World’s “10 Hot Startups to Watch” series. The single biggest sub-segment was testing and monitoring, with close to 20 startups.
Most of these companies understood the importance of testing, and most were leveraging the cloud to make testing cheaper, faster and available on-demand. But the overall philosophy of testing still hearkens back to the early days of software development, when apps were tested in a limited lab setting and then shoved out the door.
That just won’t cut it in the mobile age. The only way to effectively test an app is to test it under real-world pressures. With mobile apps, this is a huge challenge since ensuring mobile app performance means you’ll need to account for different platforms and devices. If you don’t test in a real-world production environment, then you are turning your early adopters into de facto guinea pigs.
It’s fairly easy, though, to make your early adopters partners, rather than guinea pigs. A limited, invitation-only beta release will attract tech-savvy users who will want to push apps to their limits. This is much better than a sterile lab test.
However, early testing is just the start. App testing is an ongoing process, not a one-off project.
When an app doesn’t work, users don’t have the patience to wait for you to improve it anymore. They’ll just go elsewhere because this is no longer the age when a handful of software companies have near monopolies. Today, users have choices.
Conversely, if you deliver a tested, high-performing app to the market, users appreciate each and every improvement. If you streamline the interface or add a new feature, you improve customer stickiness. You only get this goodwill, though, if your app works as advertised from the very start.
Ongoing monitoring and testing isn’t just about keeping the app stable and functioning, though. In the mobile age, user behaviors change constantly. Monitoring apps means you’re monitoring user behaviors.
You’ll know if users typically leave your app to go to a mapping app, which would mean you should offer one-click integration with that app. Or, perhaps, users constantly share data in your app on social networks, which could show you the opportunity for a new sharing feature or even an entirely new app.
There are so many apps and users have so many choices now that app testing is mission-critical and must encompass the entire lifecycle of the app. In other words, the app lifecycle should be modified to be more of a continuous loop:
-Development phase that includes deeper levels of test automation
-Testing phase that includes a range of devices and realistic user scenarios (alpha and beta releases)
-Ongoing monitoring and testing of production systems
-Collection and analysis of real user data
-Ongoing app improvements and enhancements based on user data
-New product development based on user data
Developing new apps is no longer about educated guesses about what users want. Now, you have real user data to guide your decisions.