THE BLOG

The App Tipping Point

23/05/2014 11:15 BST | Updated 22/07/2014 10:59 BST

When Apple's iPhone first launched in 2007, the app ecosystem was a curious new space, rife for exploration. As people became more familiar with the concept of apps, the number of apps grew exponentially - not just in the Apple's App Store - but also across other mobile smartphone platforms such as Android, Blackberry, and later, Windows OS. Of the various app types on offer, over-the-top (OTT) messaging and communication apps in particular changed the way people communicate with friends and colleagues, all whilst circumventing stiff mobile messaging tariffs and long-distance call fees.

However, with so many apps available in messaging and across many other categories, it wasn't long before the respective app marketplaces became crowded and reached a saturation point. What were once novel propositions soon became 'me-too' offers, as developers saw dollar signs and opportunities with copycat apps, so improving poorly designed services or adding new features and functionality to make more superior apps. This fact, however, did not drive people away from their core apps. Rather, it made people more selective in choosing the right apps that suited them.

Soon enough, clear front runners emerged from the noise. This is perhaps best illustrated by the popularity of WhatsApp, whose 450 million users recently convinced Facebook it was worth paying $19 billion to acquire. But what is it about these stand-outs that gave them lasting power? What is it about the apps that succeed? Is it pure luck or something more?

The decision making process for installing and using an app is, on the surface, very simple. However, it is actually based on quite a few factors. According to consumer research we recently commissioned at Acision, core factors driving adoption of over-the-top (OTT) messaging services in both the UK and US include cost, service quality and rich features. What this tells us is that, ultimately, the success of an app comes down to function and user experience - not just in terms of design, but in terms of what the app is able to offer the user and how streamlined its services are in terms of allowing its users to perform multiple functions in a simple way.

Apps that gain quick notoriety will often quickly outlive their usefulness once the novelty factor has worn off. For an app to have staying power, it must not only be useful but must stay relevant. That is why we see the most successful, long-lasting apps constantly introducing upgrades, features and options to keep the app relevant to the changing pace of people's digital lifestyles.

We have seen these factors change over time - during the past few years consumer behaviours, expectations and overall perceptions of messaging have evolved as mobile users increasingly demand apps with a range of rich features that enable them to chat, text and share rich media and video content at a greater level. In line with this, our research revealed that users are using a host of messaging applications, revealing that 80% of UK smartphone owners are now using over-the-top (OTT) such as WhatsApp and Viber, with 76% of these using both SMS and OTT messaging services together.

This research not only demonstrates that consumers crave richer messaging solutions to fulfill all their communication needs and communities but also that they are using multiple applications to access all the features they desire. Therefore, in a crowded application marketplace, there is a strong opportunity for a mobile messaging service which can provide all these features in one standalone app - but the key is to ensure it has a simple, engaging and empowering user experience.

We've been using smartphone apps for nearly a decade and it's clear that apps aren't going anywhere. From smoke alarms to kettles, the 'connected home' and its applications are poised to boom in the coming years. This will open the door to new, smarter communication apps that will allow us to communicate not just with each other, but with the devices in our lives. As we see an increase in connected services, consumers and businesses will demand applications that offer multiple features through one user interface. Similar to the 'first wave' of smartphone apps, this new wave of connected apps will need to focus on quality and seamless feature integration in order to earn staying power with consumers, or risk falling out of favour.