Building Smarter Mobile Apps to Fuel User Engagement

7 minute read
In Koo Kim avatar

We are in the midst of a mobile revolution. Consumers are becoming savvier with their mobile devices and are expecting more from their digital experience. Traditional desktop activities -- such as entertainment, shopping or banking -- are now being experienced on tablets and smartphones.


According to Forbes, the world has gone from 0 to 60 billion mobile apps downloaded in just the last four years. Other research shows U.S. consumers are spending 1.8 more time in apps than on the web, thereby opening new channel and revenue opportunities.

With these opportunities come certain challenges, especially for brands trying to enter the mobile ecosystem. Many mobile apps turn out to be disengaging, inconsistent and limited. Research shows that 25% of apps are deleted after their first use and over 50% of mobile apps do not break even!

Some of these apps are simply versions of print products that are updated periodically. In other cases, apps are run on white-label platforms that demand a second cut of revenue (after Apple, etc). They sometimes get the job done, but force organizations to cede control of their products/brands.

As mobile apps continue to become the dominant channel for customer engagement, organizations cannot just sit on the sidelines. Thanks to the emergence of new technologies, we can now provide personalized, contextual and engaging apps that deliver a smarter mobile experience. In this competitive mobile marketplace, organizations need to take control over their brands and build a robust platform to create smarter apps.

To stay ahead of the competition, there are five important factors for organizations to consider in their quest towards smarter apps -- development, control, features/functionality, performance and monetization.


Organizations often make the mistake of taking an ad-hoc approach toward mobile app development. Rather than being developed as a strategic and holistic platform, apps are developed on an "individual" basis by various departments in an organization. This has an adverse effect on delivering an engaging digital experience.

Further, apps frequently rely on data housed inside an organization's content management system. Other times, important updates need to be reflected in the app. A comprehensive app strategy needs to consider how these apps can be integrated with the organization’s knowledge base, and kept upto-date with relevant and fresh content.

In many cases, the cost of app development can be substantial -- and can be a deterrent to those looking to get a foot in the door. Some organizations, fearful of the headaches that stem from supporting these various platforms, have shied away from native mobile apps, electing instead to deploy simpler, cross-platform compatible HTML5 designs that compromise user experience for operational efficiency. But strictly HTML5 experiences are also inconsistent, frustrating and limited.

As seen, creating apps for multiple mobile devices and brands is increasingly difficult as organizations look to minimize app development costs, while still providing a rich user experience. Organizations need smarter development approaches that help them achieve economies of scale and give them the tools to develop a portfolio of apps for all their brands on a single platform -- helping keep control of your customers overall digital brand experience.


Organizations need control over a customer's user experience, back-end and admin management tiers, and overall costs. The spotlight today is on how to improve individual elements that together create the best mobile user experience. Apps need to be responsive to user preferences, habits and situational data such as geo-location, time of day and weather.

Additionally, users are now more willing to share data with apps if they believe this will result in a better experience. Mobile apps need to be able to respond to this data in a manner that rewards users for providing their information. Organizations need to be able to control the use of this information with A/B testing and optimization. They also need to extend their control over targeted content delivery with the aid of advanced AI algorithms to transform the everyday app into a much more personalized and smarter app.

The nature of a mobile app deployment process can be slow and cumbersome. Instead, organizations should be able to configure their mobile apps on the fly without having to republish to the App Store or Marketplace. Organizations will benefit from having a platform that allows rapid deployment of content that is fresh and relevant.


Your content strategy for mobile should not be just to develop a satellite version of your desktop site. Your organization's mobile app strategy should be aligned to your content management strategy, but remember that your users are looking for different types of interaction when using their mobile devices.

It is quite common to see organizations taking their current mobile app, increasing the graphic fidelity, and releasing it as an "original" tablet app. This is a mistake. A mobile application must present the user with the appropriate functionality.

Consider using features such as ratings, comments, search, alerts or other pre-existing widgets that can help create a much "smarter" and engaging user experience. If the functionality of an application is perceived as being incomplete or inadequate, customers might be lost and potentially delete the app.

Your mobile app should provide developers the ability to quickly add functionality to enhance the mobile user experience. Based on what you know about the user, you should be able to dynamically personalize the experience so that it adapts to meet his/her needs.

Learning Opportunities


Users have incredibly high expectations when it comes to mobile app quality. Research has shown that the user has a grace period of 30-60 seconds when first using the mobile application, which will result in either adopting the application or moving to a different available application.

You can launch a beautifully designed native application, but if it crashes or the performance is slow, then it will receive a poor rating and users will go elsewhere. To reach optimal engagement with your customers, you need ongoing, personal, and relevant conversations that create meaningful interactions.

Many organizations do not use analytics to measure the performance of the app. Just as brands went through the process of using sites to drive engagement, they need to deploy mobile-specific techniques to accomplish the same goal with apps. Metrics that measure engagement, retention, user acquisition, abandonment and conversion help in understanding the performance of the app and in finessing the app to make it smarter.


If you develop a mobile app, you have undoubtedly run into the question: how do I monetize? There are currently two main methods of monetization: subscription/purchase or ads.

Organizations want to get their apps and brands maximum exposure and a subscription or sales model will reduce the adoption of the app. Ads also create very marginal returns while providing a substantial negative bias to user experience.

A third method of monetization often overlooked has traditionally provided meaningful monetization opportunities in the print space -- sponsorships and co-branding.

In order for this third method to be available, the mobile app platform must be able to provide the granular controls over look and feel components.

Building Smarter Apps

Mobile apps create the ultimate engagement experience by leveraging technology. As mobile apps continue to become the dominant channel for customer engagement, organizations need to get off the sidelines and commit themselves to this change.

Just think: by the time you finish reading this, the mobile app landscape will have changed. Brands and App Publishers need tools to take control of their efforts to drive mobile revenue and embrace the emerging approach toward mobile development -- an approach that avoids rigid app development launch cycles, facilitates real-time modifications to content and UI designs (even native components), and lays the foundation for smarter apps that are personalized, adaptive, and truly useful.

Organizations that recognize this technological revolution and take preemptive action to make the development, quality, security, and usability of their mobile applications a top priority will find themselves with a tremendous advantage.

Image courtesy of Digital Storm (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For another take on mobile app development, read Stephen Fishman's How To: Take Your App Idea Across the Finish Line

About the author

In Koo Kim

In Koo leads the Mobile, Java, and Security Development teams at NorthPoint, a company specializing in building enterprising digital platforms for Media, Publishing, Healthcare, Education, and Not-for-Profit industries.As an architect and a leader, he has been directly involved in the successful deployment of numerous enterprise applications and websites at NorthPoint.