How better app quality results in more downloads and revenue

While the link between app quality and app success is quite clear to most developers, it’s always good to throw in some actual data. Happy to oblige.

A very nice visualization of the US iOS App Store over  at App Store Rankings shows that a 4.5-star app gets downloaded on average 3.7x more often than a 3.5-star app (265K downloads versus 71K). Our own research has shown that developers that use performance or user analytics tools to improve their apps generate about 3x as much revenue on average.

Higher revenues for developers using dev tools

The team over at Appurify have added another piece of the puzzle. They analyzed the top 100 free apps in the App Store as of May 2013 to investigate the impact of common performance issues (e.g., crashing, lagging, and slow load times) on app reviews. Analysis components included: number of total reviews; number of “most critical” reviews; number of “most critical” reviews attributable to performance; keyword counts for frequently-occurring descriptors including “crash,” “fail,” “laggy,”  “battery,” and “slow”.  A clear majority of 1-star reviews featured reports of poor app performance.

Likewise, an analysis of 25 million individual app reviews showed that the most frequently-used words in 1-star reviews were mostly tied to poor performance (e.g., work, time, fix) and lacked the positive performance-related descriptors in 5-star reviews (e.g., easy, great, fun).


Source: Appurify. Republished with permission.

The action point for developers is clear. Here are some tools that you might use to improve your app’s quality.

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Business Community Tips

Test Early, Test Often, Test on Everything?

Testing any mobile app presents a wide range of challenges. The often repeated but rarely followed software best practice of test early, test often is harder to adhere to than usual due to the fragmentation of the target environment and the relative maturity of tools. The increased acceptance of apps by mainstream consumers and intense competition have raised the bars for user experience and quality. There is more to test than ever, yet often very limited budget for doing so. Fortunately every challenge presents an opportunity and a vast array of tools vendors are racing to fill the gaps.

What to test?

Much of the traditional software testing literature focuses on various forms of functional testing – ensuring the system does what it’s meant to do. With a strong trend towards simpler, single purpose apps, this is often the easiest thing to verify in a mobile app project. There is now a much stronger focus on the user experience and this requires testing of an entirely different nature. The most effective way to test that an app is easy (or even fun) to use is to get feedback from real users. Doing that and finding major issues after the app has been built is a very expensive mistake to make, so most developers and designers will want to create mock-ups or prototypes for early feedback. There’s a wide range of tools to help with this task from simple wireframing through to full interactive prototyping. Given the importance of animations within mobile apps to enable users to discover interface interactions and learn to navigate, more complete prototypes are becoming increasingly desirable. As users become more sophisticated and specialist tools reduce the time and effort required to create interactive prototypes this trend is likely to continue.

With the majority of app store revenues coming through in-app purchases, another more specialized form of testing the design of an app is becoming increasingly important – split testing. On the desktop web, tools for trying out design and copy variants to optimize sites for specific user behaviours are very mature and the best of them can be used by staff with no development skills. In the mobile world most of the tools in this space are still very immature and developer-focussed. The responsive design trend on the web and the more restricted deployment options for native apps make this a more challenging problem for mobile devices but we expect the tools in this sector to mature rapidly.

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When to test?

The earlier you find problems with software, the cheaper it is to fix them. As such, it makes sense to start testing as early as possible. How about testing the idea for the app via a mobile market research service before you even create your first wireframes? It’s worth considering – if you can’t generate interest in your app idea with a simple pitch it’s not going to be easy to get people to download it from the store either.

For most apps (particularly native apps) it’ll be worth using one of the mock-up or prototyping tools mentioned above and test the design before you start coding the real app. It’s much cheaper to iterate a simple design prototype than a native app. However, you’ll still want to try out the actual app with real users before you launch it. To help with that there’s a range of beta testing services that can help you distribute your beta app and find and/or manage testers. There are also services to help you get feedback from your users before and after the app launches. Providing a highly accessible feedback channel for users in the app is your best hope for preventing the inevitable disgruntled few from leaving bad reviews.

Ideally an app will be developed and tested iteratively with functional testing of new features and full regression tests for the existing functionality run for each iteration. This level of testing can get extremely expensive and time consuming unless it is automated. Fortunately there are several tools, open source frameworks and third party services that can help out there too.

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Where to test?

Another major problem for mobile developers is the scale and fragmentation of the market they’re trying to serve. Collecting a full library of test devices with major firmware variants is way beyond the budget of most developers, let alone the effort that would be required to test manually on all of them. Automated testing solutions can help here also and some services provide access to a large set of devices for remote testing too. However, it’s simply not feasible for most developers to test every version of their apps on all the device and firmware combinations they support. This limitation means some bugs are almost guaranteed to escape into the wild; the important thing then becomes how quickly you discover and fix them. For this reason, crash analytics and bug tracking tools are becoming increasingly important. Another useful weapon in this battle is your usage analytics data – it can enable you to focus testing on the devices which are most popular amongst your user base and also spot changes in use on particular device models that might signal a non-fatal error that’s causing users to abandon the app.

Finally, for some apps, where they are tested geographically may also be important. Do you know what the performance of your app is like for users who are far from your servers? If you use SMS, do you know how long it takes to get to users on different networks around the world (or if it even gets there). Have the localisations for your app been tested by native speakers? Our automated testing and app certification sectors include companies that can crowdsource beta testers or provide access software testing professionals almost anywhere in the world to help you scale globally without leaving your desk.

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Prototyping: needless effort or driver of perfection?

Mobile apps are becoming more and more sophisticated every day. They evolve together with mobile devices, giving us even more pleasant, intriguing and unique experiences. Design, usability, functionality accompanied by various touch interactions, animations, and transitions are integral components of apps.

Building an app is not easy. It involves various stages in a long development life cycle. Apps require time to build, time to test, and time to iterate for improvements. Iterations are not easy especially when extensive code changes are required and that’s where usually things get messy.

There is one solution to avoid the trap that lies ahead when developing apps: prototyping. A prototype is an early sample or model built to test a concept or process, or to act as an object to be replicated or learned from. The prototyping step is often skipped due to the extra cost and effort it adds to the lifecycle of a project. However, it is widely accepted in the development world today, that undermining this vital part of the design and build process may lead to miscommunication between developers and clients, pitfalls, over budgeting, and bad quality products. Prototyping allows developers to conduct proper user trials, iterate before coding and send the app to production only when it is perfected.

Graphic designers, user experience designers, usability experts, interaction designers, and developers use different ways and tools to create prototypes. The most popular methods used for prototyping apps are paper prototyping, presentation software, mobile apps (usually for tablets) designed to allow people to prototype mobile applications on actual mobile devices, source code and prototyping applications and tools either web (offered as SaaS) or desktop apps.

In the following section I will briefly describe the prototype tools vendor landscape and the main needs that these tools serve.

Vendor landscape

If we ignore for a moment the paper prototyping and source code, where no specific tool is used, then we are down to three main types of prototyping tools: presentation software, mobile apps and mobile prototyping applications.


Presentation software like Keynote or Powerpoint, are in the market for decades and peeple are well trained to use them in different ways. The way people use them for prototyping, is by linking sketches, or design comps together in a presentation since such tools support animations and screen transitions. Some UI libraries like Keynotopia have UI components of popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android, designed for presentation software. Presentation software are built for an entire different purpose and they are limited in prototyping functionality but are still valid in some user cases. Diagramming software like Omingraffle and Gliffy are sometimes also used for prototyping.

Mobile apps for iPad and Android tablets designed for mobile prototyping allow real device testing which is their main advantage. Some of these apps provide UI libraries of major mobile UI components like App Cooker and Interface HD. Others, like Popapp allow taking photos of sketches and linking them together. Most of these apps are limited to single device prototyping and usually lack sharing and collaboration tools but are very useful when it comes to quickly validating an idea.

Mobile prototyping applications are web or desktop applications designed specifically for mobile prototyping. These applications vary from simple traditional wireframe applications (including mockups) to advanced prototyping tools that are able to provide a varying degree of mobile-specific functionality such as touch events and gestures, interactions, screen transitions. Most importantly these tools provide the ability to preview a prototype on the actual device.

There are three different types of such mobile prototyping applications:

  1. Hotspot apps are usually web apps that allow you to upload your mobile design comps and link them together usually with a single event (click or touch) without (or at best simple) transition effects. These apps are useful especially for collaboration as most of them allow comments and annotations. Although some of these tools make real device preview possible (i.e. preview on the actual device that the app is built for), they are not really eligible for proper user trials as they do not allow multiple interactions such as touch gestures and other important mobile specific features. Applications in this category are Fieldtest app, Invisionapp, Popap and are usually web apps offered as Software As A Service or mobile apps for tablets and Smartphones.
  2. Wireframe or Mockup tools are tools that allow the development of still wireframes or mockups. Usually these tools have a large number of UI components libraries available. Some of these tools have been in the market for years as they were designed for website mockups or wireframes, but many of them have been changed in an attempt to embrace needs specific to mobile apps. Many of these tools are very advanced in functionality and features, offering a range of useful companion tools for collaboration and more. Most of these tools are limited to single tap interaction (or mouse interactions, as they are designed for web sites) and no or limited animations and transitions. Tools that fall under this category include Balsamiq, MockingBird, UXpin, Pidoco and others and they can be found as web apps available on a subscription basis or as desktop apps.
  3. Prototyping tools are web applications or desktop software designed from the ground up and specifically for mobile (or web) prototyping. These applications go beyond traditional wireframe or mockup applications, to provide functionality for mobile touch events and gestures, interactions, screen transitions and most importantly provide the ability to preview a prototype on the actual device. Many of them come with UI libraries for iOS, Android, Windows mobile and Blackberry and offer collaboration tools and functionality. Tools and software in this category include Axure, Indigo Studio, and many more.

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Current challenges with prototyping tools

Prototyping tools are still in their infancy. They have been around for two years or less must be in sync with the ever changing mobile industry. New mobile devices become available on a daily basis, new versions of mobile operating systems and new functionality that needs to be supported makes the chase even more difficult. The main challenge is the ability to test the prototypes on the real device. In order to achieve this more tools render their prototypes in HTML5 so that they can run on a native mobile browser without the need of installing and maintaining various mobile apps.

Another major challenge is performance and by using HTML5 features such as animations render much slower on a mobile browser than they would on a native app, making the experience a bit far from real and as such defeating the purpose of doing a full prototype in the first place. Nevertheless, some of these tools have reached a maturity level that allow professionals to create fully functional, interactive mobile app prototypes of their apps that look and behave exactly as their app would. This allows the teams to conduct user trials, gather feedback, and iterate for improvements. Furthermore, a proper prototype narrows the communication gap between designers and developers (coders) as well as with the app team and the stakeholders.

Future opportunities with prototyping tools

Prototyping tools gain larger audiences as mobile technologies progress. As mobile apps become more sophisticated, more detailed prototyping is required. The mobile market grows and the prototyping tools market will continue to grow with it as more Operating Systems and newer more capable devices are released. New devices come to life every day, from car navigation systems to refrigerator panels, all having in common touch and interactive interfaces.

News and Resources

The user analytics duopoly: Google and Flurry are well ahead of competition

Usage analytics tools usually have a very simple integration which enables developer to get basic information about their active user base – size, usage frequency, device models, OS versions and app versions in use. More custom integration enables developers to log events to the usage analytics platforms when users perform specific actions within the app. This allows developers to track which features or functions are most use, measure conversion rates and pinpoint where in UI flows users are giving up if actions are not being completed.

User analytics services gain in importance as competition intensifies

User analytics services are becoming increasingly important as competition in app development continues to rise. The ability to track how users interact with apps is extremely valuable for both developers and product managers and to some extent acts as a proxy for user feedback. The absence of a direct two-way communication channel between developers and users means that user analytics often provide the only channel from user to developer. 28% of developers use user analytics services overall, but usage rises with the number of apps developed, reaching 39% among developers working on more than 10 apps per year.

Analytics services seem to be significantly more important among iOS developers (used by 39% of iOS developers) compared to other platforms. This suggests that iOS developers take more interest overall in their user base, a fact that could indicate a more professional approach to development. Among the top platforms, user analytics tools are the least popular with BlackBerry developers (15%). BlackBerry has suffered high churn of its affluent user base and developers sticking with the platform are likely to be working on outsourced ports with little interest about the way that users interact with an app. Among the other major platforms around a quarter of developers use user analytics, with Android being slightly ahead (28% of Android developers).


Google and Flurry lead the pack

The picture in user analytics services is quite telling with two services dominating: Google and Flurry. Google has traditionally been strong in web analytics but it has now extended its stronghold on to mobile platforms commanding a 69% mindshare among developers employing User Analytics services. However, its dominance is mainly observed among HTML developers and although it leads on Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, its lead is by a small margin. Runner-up Flurry, is used by 49% of developers employing User Analytics services but is the leading User Analytics service on iOS (64% vs. 58% for Google). Flurry, being one of the pioneers in User Analytics has grown into one of the heavyweights in app ecosystems, and is recognised as a de-facto analytics platform for developers. Beyond these two services, there are numerous smaller players vying for third place, currently held by Testflight Live, a service recently acquired by ad mediation service Burstly in a move that is quite typical of the synergies between different tools and services that drive consolidation in the marketplace.

User Analytics services are stronger in Media apps (News/sports/weather/magazines) as well as in Entertainment apps, used by 36% of developers working on such apps. However, they are more or less popular across all app categories, but less so in Education/Reference apps. Google analytics is stronger overall across all these categories, with the exception of Games where both Google and Flurry are equally strong.

Minimizing overhead is the priority

Developers opt for services that are easy to integrate within their apps or that are available across several platforms as indicated by 51% and 49% of developers using user analytics services. I.e. the main priority for developers is to minimise the overheads associated with using user analytics, while optimising analytics comes third: only 31% of developers using user analytics services are concerned with the depth of analytics, and only 13% are interested in real-time reports. Cost is a also deciding factor as pointed out by 28% of developers employing user analytics.

We asked developers using User Analytics services to indicate the number of active users of their most popular app. Excluding those apps that have more than 500,000 users, developers’ most popular apps have an average active user base of 56,000 users, although this number varies widely within platforms and across platforms. iOS developers indicated 70,000 users vs. 51,000 users on average for Android. The median user base, is 27,500 users for iOS and 15,500 for Android, indicating that while Android commands a higher market share, iOS users engage more actively with the platform when it comes to apps with less than 500,000 active users.

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Which user analytics tools are other developers using?

[toggle title=”Important things to know about this interactive graph”]

  • All the filters in the graph refer to survey questions in which respondents could select multiple answers. This means that there is no direct link between the filter and the use of the tool. For example, filtering on “Android” means that the respondents develop Android apps. It doesn’t imply that they use the tools for their Android apps specifically, or even that the tool supports the Android platform. Use filters as a guideline only.
  • Keep an eye on the sample size. If the sample size is low, the graph doesn’t offer strong conclusions about the popularity of different tools. Use your good judgment when making decisions.[/toggle]

    Find the best analytics tool for you!

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Different Ways of Winning on the App Stores

A recent report from Canalys highlighted the extreme concentration of income distribution across the iOS and Android stores in the US. The top 25 publishers make 50% of the revenues. 24 out of 25 of those are games publishers (the 1 exception is the Pandora music streaming service). During the first 20 days of November these 25 publishers made $60m from paid downloads and in-app purchases in the US alone. Is there still room left for smaller publishers? How can smaller companies succeed and start winning on the app stores?


The Faces of Fragmentation: Musings on Versions and Installed Base

How do various forms of fragmentation of the potential audience impact the development economics? The answers will vary significantly depending on the specifics of each app but some general issues are worthy of consideration by everyone.As we pointed out recently, Android is now way ahead of iOS in terms of share of new device sales and installed base but also rapidly catching up on total revenues. The important questions for developers interested in that trend are what fractions of those markets can easily be targeted and how much will it cost to target more? 


Mobile App Testing – advanced tips and tricks

An issue on mobile app testing has published on”Testing Experience”, one of the world’s leading magazines for software testers and test managers. The magazine is full of in-depth insights on app testing, from context-dependent techniques to mobile network variability testing. A great resource for anyone who’s serious about how to test their apps!

Business Platforms Tips

The Developer Platform “Lean Factor” and Why It Matters

There’s a lot of buzz about Lean Startups in the software community in general and amongst mobile developers in particular. How lean a startup can be is strongly influenced by the tools and processes available on their chosen platform. Which platforms enable the leanest product development processes? How and why does lean framework matter?