Re-entering the mobile app universe: Lessons from a 4-week experiment

4 weeks ago, while on vacation in Costa Rica, I dropped my iPhone and caused irreparable damage. When I returned stateside, I did something crazy: I decided to go “app-less” for 4 weeks (note: I used an original iPhone 3 to make calls and check my email on but none of my standard apps support iOS 3.x anymore). Yesterday, I replaced my iPhone and re-entered the app universe.

Here are some of my key take-aways upon re-entrance to mobile world.

First impressions
Opening screens and moments make a big impact. I fell in love again with the Dots tutorial/intro - which is still the best in class as far an engaging, clean, effective intro goes - and was blown away by LinkedIn’s. At first, I thought the choice of scenery (a Manhattan street - but decidedly not Wall St.), seemed too ordinary. But it quickly hit - LinkedIn is everyone’s professional network and what better to illustrate than a street corner of the best cultural melting pot. Furthermore, the opening screens are inviting, involve a nice transition and are full of little touches (eg you can either click sign in or swipe right which - despite not having a visual button presence on screen - makes intuitive sense because the last screen slid left to exit).

100:10:1 Rule for app engagement
On my previous phone, I had ~250 apps. Yesterday, I immediately remembered to download ~20. There were 2 which were unquestionably the first 2 I needed: Uber and Mailbox. I imagine this pattern exists or is quickly evolving among smartphone users everywhere. The apps that have had mega success so far fall into the 1% for some meaningful segment of users.

Passive behavior change
A significant, maybe 80%+, portion of my consumer service engagement was now happening through mobile. As a result, my engagement in most services (even if it crossed the mobile / web like Twitter or Quibb - where I actually adopted the services on web!) dropped drastically simply because I didn’t have access to the app. It’s as if mobile tech helped create 3 spaces: work where I did work, home where I socialized with gf, cooked, etc and on-the-go (at coffee shop, in an Uber, waiting in line, etc) where my mobile engagement was taking place. When the apps weren’t accessible, my engagement fell off a cliff.

App to user communication
“Would you like to enable push notifications…” On my last device, my default behavior was to allow but on this device it’s flipped. 2nd and 3rd generation smartphone users are going to be much savvier when it comes to blind acceptance. I expect acceptance rates are going to start steadily declining, especially for apps that historically abuse this channel.

Organic mobile design
The quality of mobile visual design has taken significant leaps forward. But apps that are truly “organically” designed for mobile seem to be rare. Yes, many apps are getting the basics of swipe gestures, sliding trays in and out to make extra screen space but few seem to be truly organic. For example, the Mailbox UX innovation of swiping to “throw away” email (in various ways) is perfectly suited to mobile multi-touch tech. It seems bananas to me that Gmail hasn’t admitted defeat on that front and followed suit already.


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