Why making good apps is hard: Part 1

October 27th, 2015 by

At PsyberGuide, our goal is to evaluate apps from all perspectives. It is critical that an app has a sound science-based approach toward improving mental health, but it is also critical that an app is not frustrating to use – it is fast, responsive, doesn’t crash, and avoids all of the other common frustrations for users.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll write about some of the difficulties facing app manufacturers in trying to make and maintain apps that perform well. The first difficulty we are going to look at is the constant need for updating an app.

There are several reasons why apps need to be updated:

  • Adding new features
    Products need to frequently add new features, to keep up with competitors and to keep the interest of users
  • Expanding capacities
    Such as adding support for other languages, or extending the app for new smartwatches
  • Responding to updates in the platform
    IOS, Android, and Windows platforms are frequently updated. Apps need to perform well in the updated environment and take advantage of the new features of that environment. They also need to still work well on older versions of the platforms, since many users do not update to the current versions of the platform.
  • Fixing bugs
    Bugs inevitably occur in the products, especially given the quick timeframe in which new versions of the app are produced

Let’s look at two very popular apps – Lumosity and Headspace. Both of these products are considered mature apps – they have been around for several years and are feature-rich and well-tested. And yet this doesn’t mean that they don’t have to keep continuously updating. Recent updates include:

Lumosity: 18 new IOS versions in 2015
Headspace: 8 new IOS versions in 2015

This is just for the Apple IOS platform and just for 2015. Most apps are also frequently updating an Android version and a web version of the product, multiplying the amount of work.

The need for constant updates means that apps have to have access to significant funding.   Some of the apps on PsyberGuide have institutional financing, and many other apps rely on equity funding and growing a large user base. Lumosity and Headspace both use the popular model of offering a limited version of the product for free, and then charging subscription fees for more content. It is likely that they have a large enough user base that they can afford to keep constantly updating their apps in the future. Many other apps may have more difficulty finding the money for updates.

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