Why subscription apps could make or break your mobile business

A recent study by mobileinsurance.com revealed that the average person spends 90 minutes a day on their phone. That may not sound like a lot, but it amounts to 23 days a year and 3.9 years of our lives. After web browsing, but before making calls, apps are one of the most used functions on a device, helping us perform increasingly sophisticated tasks without having to stray from our mobile handset.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that developers want us to use their apps as much as possible and for as long as possible, and that for many, the holy grail of app development is subscription based delivery – where users pay consistently for a service which they can use as frequently as they like.

Last year, Apple secretly met with its most prolific developers to urge them to shift their delivery models away from ‘one-time purchasing’ towards subscriptions. Single purchases, it said, are inexpensive for the user, but can prove costly from both a services and R&D perspective. Subscriptions, however, generate consistent revenue for app developers, making more money for the app store, and allowing brands to establish deep and long-lasting dynamic relationships with their customers.

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While the shift is perhaps a no-brainer for developers, it’s easier said than done. Today creating well-performing subscription apps is extremely challenging, and building a successful one calls for a fundamental shift in the way apps are developed, delivered and maintained.

So how do developers make the shift? It’s not a simple process but can pay significant dividends. Here are some tips to get you started.

Tip 1: Keep it simple, silly

With developments such as AR, VR and onboard sensors hitting the headlines, there are lots of cool things developers can do with the functionality of a mobile app. But unless those cool things also align with the needs and goals of users, they simply won’t help drive repeat use and may do more harm than good.

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Cramming your mobile app full of features that aren’t essential to the tasks users want to complete will likely make the app clunky and difficult to navigate. We know that users want intuitive app navigation and that means simplicity is key.

Developers should consider what their users are trying to do every time they access the app and focus all their attention on making those tasks as easy and enjoyable as possible. Additional ‘vanity’ features will only distract from the tasks at hand and can actually make users feel overwhelmed and less satisfied with the app experience overall.

Tip 2: BUT always focus on delivering value

Simplicity is, of course, crucial, but this mustn’t detract from the need to deliver consistent value. Developers must work to push features and updates that will continue to engage and delight users.

Among other things, this means that developers must ensure timely updates to support new OS platforms releases/devices and provide innovative, cutting-edge functionalities that are not available in any other competitive service. It’s important not just to keep pace with the competition, but to beat rivals to the punch with the launch of relevant new features and services.

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Developers must always be up-to-date with the OS market, anticipating upcoming releases and changes in customer perception about certain features (to retire, update, add, etc.). They must also make sure users have a reason to keep returning to an app, through things like personalisation, offers, new features and more. A static app simply won’t cut the mustard in a competitive digital landscape.

Tip 3: Be creative with costs

When advising brands, Apple asserts the importance of attracting new users with pricing offers. Apps with auto-renewable subscriptions can offer a discounted price or a free trial for a limited time. Pay as you go, where subscribers pay an introductory price each billing period for a specific duration, is a popular option here. Pay upfront options allow developers to offer an extended introductory experience that gives users time to enjoy the subscription before the next renewal, while free trials mean that subscribers can access an app for free for a specific duration and enter into a subscription automatically after a period of time or number of uses.

Tip 4: BUT keep quality at the heart of everything you do

While compelling prices and new and valuable features are key to the success of subscription-based apps, continuous quality of the apps across all OS platforms is also crucial in retaining happy and renewing customers.

Subscription apps must be highly responsive, well-performing and exceptionally functional. A rich experience gives users a reason to download the app in the first place and the incentive to continue using it. Continuous testing is essential to catching bugs early and ensuring the smooth running of an app, and it’s here where developers must focus their efforts.

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Of course, software will always encounter defects and in high peak usage, some outages may occur. In this case, customer service is key – which doesn’t just mean communication, but also creative solutions to mitigate interruptions as much as possible when issues with the app do arise.

The faster customers get answers to their complaints, the higher the chances are for them to remain loyal. While responding to customers in a timely manner, developers must also be fixing issues just as quickly. To do so, developers must have a robust analysis solution that will help them pinpoint the issue and its root cause, leading them to a resolution. Fast feedback to the developers through monitoring systems and test automation code is a great way to address issues and deliver patches to end users.

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So, we all know there is a buoyant market for mobile services and that many businesses are well-served by optimised and compelling applications. Simple design, a seamless user interface, and intuitive navigation will make your app easy and enjoyable to use, and the development of personalised experiences will help keep the mobile app experience relevant and ensure users continue coming back.

We all agree with the pundits that subscription-based models are the future, and indeed could be the make or break for a mobile business as a plethora of free apps make it harder to push simple ‘one time purchase’ applications. But it’s a long road to full adoption of subscription-based models. Proving value and convincing customers to subscribe to a service requires time, appealing features and strong marketing engines. And it’s only when DevOps teams can demonstrate maturity in quality practices like continuous testing and continuous delivery that they’ll be able to fully reap the rewards of subscription apps.

Written by Eran Kinsbruner, lead technical evangelist for Perfecto

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