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How to improve usage of Mobile Applications

It’s one thing to generate downloads for your application while it’s completely another thing to generate usage and hence value. Recent post from Ashish again highlighted this issue to me. Our experience in working with various companies to develop their Mobile applications has taught us some valuable lessons, so here I am sharing some insider dope on how to improve usage of your downloadable application.
Disclaimer :- I do not claim that all the applications developed by us follow all these rules. May be that’s the reason we learned it ..:-).
– Rule 1  Find your niche :- Mobile phones is a huge huge market. According to some, there may be more mobile phones than toothbrushes in world. That allows you to really find your niche and market to it. So , instead of trying to target half of the planet, you should try and target your idea for those 10 million users who may really need what you are providing. So next time when you hear / read that some blah blah social networking application has been downloaded 50 million times, don’t forget to ask how many active users they have.
Closer to home, 160by2 has managed this bit really well. They targeted their application only to Indian and Middle eastern users using Nokia S60 handsets. These people care about sending free sms using their data connection. And their usage figures show that.
Another Niche area where usage is extremely high is enterprise applications. I have seen that mobile applications related to accounting, CRM or contact management have extremely impressive usage figures.
– Rule 2 Generate Pull , don’t push :- This is important before you blow your millions on marketing. When you are validating your idea, make sure that you have an unbiased way to find out if your users really care about what you provide. There are many ways to do that but prerequisite is that you know your niche and are able to describe it in detail. Then it’s just a matter of reaching out to 1000 such users and getting their feedback.
I have seen many marketing campaigns with big budgets generate initial interest just to see it fizz out in few months.
– Rule 3 Free vs Paid vs freemium .. don’t worry, just go social  :- I do not subscribe to the theory that if your app is free , freemium or subscription based, usage is higher. Infact I have not seen any impact of app pricing on usage. Rules 1 and 2 affect usage much more. Well how to monetize your application is a topic for another post ..:-). But consider this, the apps which allows people to share information or just their ‘love’ with other people in their social network including their phonebook, facebook accounts or twitter accounts, see much more loyalty from their users.
– Rule 4 Focus on  fast and easy user interface :- If you want someone to use your application again and again, make sure it is fast and easy to use, period. Loosen your purse for the best human interface designer you can find, usually it’s worth it.

– Rule 5 Include help  :- Again this is something basic but I cannot count number of applications who just don’t bother. Even if you think that your app is easiest to use, it is just common sense to give your users all the help they may need. Your spend on UI design cannot replace good documentation. Someone said “Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.” and it’s true to some extent…;-)
– Rule 6 Listen to your users:- It’s unforgivable if you do not allow your users a way to let you know about a bug or a new feature request in a very intuitive way. It’s unbelievable that majority of applications today miss this part completely. Giving your users a way to express their wishes only gets them closer and more loyal to your app.
– Rule 7 Update and update often :- That’s a natural follow up to rule 6. If you listen to your users make sure that they know about it. Give them regular updates of app usually they will love you more for it. I know that it’s extremely difficult task especially on non iphone operating systems. But there are ways to make sure it can be done even on operating systems like Symbian or run-times like J2ME. We ourselves have developed one technology which allows you to update dynamically. Whichever method you use, while designing your application make sure you are able to push that important patch at later stage if you need to.
– Rule 8 Don’t depend too much on Operators or OEMs :- There is a huge tendency especially in India to “outsource” the task of creating interest in your application to either Operators or Phone manufacturers like Nokia. But really you should not depend on someone else to do your job. Remember all the cool apps like Fring, Opera Mini went solo , made a raging success and then partnered with biggies to push the limits.
-Rule 9 Embed as deeply as possible in the device OS :- Applications which run in background and embed as deeply as possible in day to day life of Mobile users using alerts, tickers and so on create bigger connect with it’s users.  Of course this is not possible on all the phones but majority of smartphones today support some level of device embedding and you should try and take maximum advantage of this.
Mobme has successfully done it with mms2.0 (embedding with native camera) and Zozoc with their SMS client replacement on Symbian S60. Mobisy’s mobitop supports background processing and device embedding too on Symbian S60.
In summary, thanks to iPhone, there is exponential growth in smartphone market share. And this is leading to an explosion in Mobile applications market. When it does happen, we will see that all the apps who follow these rules meticulously will reap the benefits. Rest will rue the missed opportunity.

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