Companies have invested significant sums in developing native mobile apps but the harsh reality is that many have little to show for it.
While many continue to maintain and invest in their apps despite the results, some are deciding that it’s better to pull the plug.
One such company is Atavist, a digital magazine that launched in 2010 just as excitement around media consumption on phones and tablets was building.
But five years later, the upstart publisher came to the conclusion that the most sensible thing to do was kill its native app.
When should a company make a similar decision? Here are eight reasons it might make sense to retire a native app…
Development is too expensive
Building and maintaining native apps can be an expensive proposition, especially when dealing with multiple platforms.
While there exists a growing number of mobile developers and increasingly sophisticated mobile development tools that make building native apps faster and easier, a quality native app is usually far from cheap to develop and maintain. For some companies, the level of investment required simply can’t be recouped in a reasonable amount of time.
Churn is excessive
By some estimates, native app churn exceeds 50% when a user doesn’t open an app more than once within the first 12 hours after download.
While it’s possible to reduce churn using a number of techniques, companies that can’t retain enough users are faced with a bleak prospect: a never-ending need to find and acquire new users.
Acquisition costs are too high
If you build it, they will not come. This is especially true for native apps. To counter this, many companies spend significant amounts in an effort to drive installs. Coupled with high churn, these acquisition costs can fast become unwieldy.
Potentially exacerbating the acquisition cost problem is the fact that Google may penalize sites that use full-page interstitial ads to promote their native apps – a popular and sometimes effective acquisition approach, especially for companies with significant web audiences that they can promote to without hard costs.
Frequent updates are needed
While companies can build dynamic native apps that can be updated without having to publish new versions to the app stores, not all companies have developed their apps in such a way that this is possible.
In these cases, frequent updates can be very problematic, not just because of the app store submission and approval process itself but because of the effects of fragmentation.
For instance, if users who don’t upgrade to a newer version of the app don’t have access to certain features, their usage of the app might produce less value.
There are plenty of proven models and services for monetizing native apps, but not all companies are able to monetize their apps as effectively as they believed they would. In the worst cases, native apps can effectively cannibalize and destroy web revenue.
The web has the capabilities you need
Increasingly, companies can build mobile websites that tap into device capabilities they didn’t have access to just a year or two ago.
For companies that built native apps to tap into specific device capabilities that no longer require native access, there might be no real justification for maintaining a native app.
Discovery is painful
Depending on how a company manages and distributes its content, native apps can present discovery challenges.
URX is attempting to address some of these issues with its deep linking technology and Google is pushing App Indexing, but for many companies, the bottom line today is that discovery with native apps is a complex issue not easily addressed.
The use case isn’t compelling
The most successful native apps are usually supported by compelling use cases. Unfortunately, lots of companies fail to think through use cases when designing their apps. Instead, they build apps that do little more than wrap the functionality of their websites in a native shell – usually a tough sell.
Case in point: while the Atavist decided to kill is native app for reading, it’s considering build an app for content creation. An app with a focus on a different use case might be far more successful for the company.