Certain pre-launch mobile app development mistakes have the power to totally wreck all the hard work that app developers put in. They can completely destroy the in-app user experience, leading to a lower retention rate, poor reviews and consequently, unsuccessful monetization. These mistakes can happen for many different reasons, such as client pressure, fast-paced ecosystem, poor project planning, among other things.
Some will tell you there is no point crying over spilt milk, but if a couple of easily avoidable mistakes have ruined months of hard work and left my app with poor reviews I will not cry, I would scream my lungs out. The funny thing is, some mistakes are relatively common and happen more often than you would imagine.
This article covers some of the pre-launch mistakes app pros usually make and offers insights from a cross-platform developer. These tips should help you avoid facepalming your forehead into a concave shape in the future.
1. Overdoing it With Features
Do not think that your users will be more engaged and stick around longer if you offer a bunch of different features, especially when you are just launching an entirely new app. By overdoing it with features, you can create an exactly opposite effect – your users might become confused and lose focus. Do not forget that people usually download apps to get something done. By focusing on a core set of features, you will achieve three things:
- Make sure users complete their tasks (and that is what will boost your retention)
- Minimise the chance of malfunctioning features (you will have fewer features to worry about)
- Release the app sooner
When it comes to newly released apps and their features, less is always more. Freelance cross-platform app developer Jason Keenen says developers should always focus only on core features for the first version.
One thing I say to clients is to focus on the MVP they need for version 1.0,” he told me. “Version 1.1 can be worked on immediately after. Clients fall into the trap of trying to put too much into a 1.0, and this drags the project on. Better to get an app out there and update it with new features.
2. Beta Testing the App Yourself
Beta testing is a great way to spot bugs, unresponsive gestures and general flow issues. Usually, app developers hire third parties, people outside of the development team, to test the app. It is a standard approach, but sometimes they make that awful mistake of solely testing the app themselves.They do it for different reasons. In some cases it is because of tight deadlines, other times it is insufficient funding, and sometimes the developers just think their feedback would suffice.
People who worked on an app are the wrong people to test that app. You are not building an app for the developers. You are developing it for a particular group of end-users. Between the two groups (developers and end-users), the opinions on what works (correctly) and what does not, may, or may not be the same. Chances are, they are not. So, it is best not to take that risk and have your actual end-users be your beta testers.
Having end-users as beta testers also opens up new possibilities for creative ideas and suggestions for the app’s features.
3. (Not) Pre-determining KPIs
Key performance indicators (KPI) are measurable values that determine the success of the app. There are dozens of KPIs that can be used to track and measure progress, as well as to make informed decisions on the changes necessary to make the app an even bigger success.
Have you pre-determined KPIs or not? If yes, which ones did you choose, and which ones did you ignore? There is no simple answer to this question, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You need to have a clear vision of where you want to go with your app, and how you want your users to behave when using it. Those are your first steps.
For example, when building a utility app like a Wifi Analyzer, you know users will not stick around for long. They will bring up the app, find the least crowded channel, and close the app. So session length is not an essential KPI at this point. But session frequency, on the other hand, is. You will want your users to keep coming back on a recurrent basis, right?
However, do not set your pre-determined KPIs in stone. That way, you are risking locking yourself out on information from other performance indicators that might, at some point, be of even greater importance. Measuring progress and making informed changes is an ongoing, ever-changing process, so it is essential to keep an open mind about which KPIs to track.
4. Ignoring Qualitative Data
When building an app, all data that you gather is valuable, yet not all data is quantifiable and numerical. Some things just cannot be said in numbers, but that does not mean they cannot shape your app. As a matter of fact those unquantifiable elements can actually define your app’s UX.
Why are users struggling to complete your login form? Why is there a high quit rate on your ‘checkout’ screen? These questions beg for qualitative data. But not just the data that is obtained from in-person interviews. We mean data that is obtained from real-time experiences in your app without observational bias.
Identifying counterintuitive UI elements, visualizing crashes and bugs, pinpointing unresponsive gestures and UX friction points- these types of qualitative analysis are all fundamental to building and launching a great product. As apps continue to increase in caliber, the experiences of users become more nuanced and individualized. By utilizing a qualitative analytics platform to assess your app during pre-launch, you can see every facet of a user’s unique experience. This enables you to effectively reproduce and squash bugs, and accurately gauge users’ expectations before propelling your app into the massive app empire.
5. Not Taking Navigation Seriously Enough
Another important app element that ties closely to flow and user experience is the app’s navigation. Poor navigation can wreak havoc on your user engagement. One research, for example, says that the hamburger menu cuts user engagement in half – a mighty blow for retention.
However, creating an excellent navigation system is somewhat of a catch-22. Some sort of navigation indication needs to be present on the screen because, you know, out of sight – out of mind. Yet, navigation needs to be inconspicuous, otherwise it will get in the way of the app’s content and distract users. It is not an easy thing to achieve, but with qualitative analytics, A/B testing and a bit of brainstorming, the best fit for your app can be determined.
6. Not Thinking About Target Size
People have smartphones with different screen sizes. People also have fingers of different sizes. But one thing they all have in common: they need to have visual confirmations, or cues, that they are interacting with an app’s element. For example, Twitter’s home button has a little animation when pressed, followed by a clicking sound, essentially notifying the user that the button has been pressed. One of the mistakes app developers make is having the app’s elements too small. In such a scenario, the elements get completely covered by the users’ fingers. As a result, users end up not being 100% sure if they successfully interacted with the app or if they “mistapped”.
That, as you might imagine, leads to a lot of back-and-forth, frustration and generally poor user experience. Mobile OS creators such as Apple or Microsoft have released guidelines for optimum button sizes for apps, and they agree that interaction elements should not be smaller than 9mm square, or 48×48 pixels on a 135 PPI display at a 1.0x scaling plateau. Releasing an app without paying attention to these details can be devastating for the app’s usability and consequently – popularity and success.
Generally speaking, developers should always stick to platform standards. Even if they are developing for a client who wants to do things differently, they should advise against it. Kneen says not sticking to platform standards are “always bad patterns.” He told me that
[It’s] best to stick to platform UI standards, and then you end up with an app that’s fast and initiative, as users of the OS are familiar with the UX.
Those looking to learn more about the human finger and how it is used to interact with touchscreen devices, make sure to check out this pdf.
Working in the digital realm means no features are set in stone. Everything can be changed and modified, which is obviously a big advantage for mobile app pros. However, that does not mean developers should become complacent and overlook what they are aiming to achieve before they start building.
Some mistakes can leave a bitter taste of regret, and can ruin months of hard work, regardless how simple or obvious these mistakes may seem afterwards. The worst part is that most app developers know this, but some still try cutting corners to meet deadlines and fit within budgets. And as a result, they end up taking the longer, more expensive route. As Confucious once said, “The cautious seldom err.” When it comes to the launch of your app, this could not be more accurate.