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For many companies, a native mobile app is one of the most important parts of a mobile strategy.
Unfortunately, although the costs of building native mobile apps are in many cases decreasing, building a successful mobile app is increasingly difficult.
There are many reasons companies struggle to gain traction with their mobile apps. One of the biggest: trying to do too much.
Mobile design best practices have come a long way in the past couple of years, and today's devices are more capable than ever, but developing a compelling experience around a device with a limited form factor is still deceptively complex.
Even so, many companies are lured into believing that a comprehensive, feature-rich app is a good idea. The typical result: an app that falls short of user expectations. Not because the app doesn't, on the surface, do enough, but because it fails to do enough well enough.
Poke: Facebook's answer to app complexity
Some companies are recognizing that a 'one-app-to-rule-them-all' strategy leaves a lot to be desired. Take, for instance, Facebook.
The world's largest social network's native mobile apps are an important part of its future, and, not surprisingly, they're used by millions upon millions of consumers.
But when Facebook executives decided that they liked the functionality provided by Snapchat, a mobile app that allows users to send self-deleting photos and videos to each other, they made an interesting decision. Instead of adding similar functionality to their existing mobile apps, they decided to launch a simple, standalone iOS app called Poke.
Poke's success is far from guaranteed. Despite the publicity it garnered upon release, it appears that Poke may have only bolstered Snapchat's position in the market. But even so, there's a strong argument to be made that Facebook made the right decision in launching a separate mobile app for a specific use case.
Had Facebook tried to add Snapchat-like functionality into its existing iOS app, the functionality would have been exposed to more users, more quickly, but that wouldn't necessarily equate to more usage.
And it could have confused users. After all, Facebook facilitates sharing of content between users, both in a one-to-one and one-to-many fashion. Snapchat facilitates sharing of sensitive content between specific individuals -- content the sender wants displayed and then deleted automatically after a short period of time. Those are two very different functions.
Focus on doing one or two things really well
So does your company need more than one mobile app? It can be a difficult question to answer. Distribution is a huge challenge for developers of native apps, and few companies will be excited about the prospect of promoting and managing multiple apps.
But at the end of the day, a company's chances of success in mobile are limited unless its app or apps do something useful. As such, it's important to focus on each high-value problem you want to solve and to figure out how that problem can be solved in an efficient manner through a mobile experience.
In most cases, a focus on a single problem and efficient solution will dictate that you design an experience that does one or two things really well -- something that may realistically require you to consider multiple apps, however unattractive or scary that proposition is.