Clearly, mobile apps are extremely popular. At this point I think it’s also fair to say that many people favor a native app over a mobile website. Because of these combine trends, disposable apps have been making appearances for a couple of years now.
A Dr. Dobb’s article defines disposable apps as apps that “are intended to exist only as temporary pieces of software devoted to (for example) a four-day IT show such as IBM Impact, a new car launch, or some other short term special event.” You’ve likely seen these time sensitive apps at conferences, events or, more generally, during the most recent presidential election.
The question is, are disposable apps worth it?
There are plenty of companies out there that specialize in making quick-turn-around mobile apps and crowdsourced, in-the-wild testing can help you fit a lot of comprehensive testing into a limited schedule. But overall, creating a worthwhile app still takes time. The question organizations and companies need to ask themselves is, “Is the effort worth it?” A Read Write article points out that the return on investment for disposable mobile apps is often nonexistent.
Today, many businesses create apps for a variety of occasions, including one-time events like conferences and product announcements. But for most businesses, building these apps is a process that can take several months. At Demo Mobile 2013, Raw Engineering CEO Neha Sampat showcased an app her team built in a week.
“The life of an app used by enterprises is sometimes as short as a month,” said Sampat. “If it takes you three to four months to build an app you’re only going to use for a month leading up to an event or a conference or an announcement, there’s no [return on investment] there.”
Maybe it is worth it from a brand perspective. People are interacting with your brand in a way that they’re comfortable with and that lets you capture data. But first, your app has to make it into the app stores (in time for the event, might I add) and be found by users. Google Play and Apple’s App Store both reportedly have more than 700,000 apps. That’s a lot of noise to contend with. Even with exact app titles it can sometimes be hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. If your app gets buried, or you don’t spend extra time, resources and possibly money promoting its existence, no one will ever know about it.
Now what if you’re the consumer? You hear about this app at an event you’re attending. You search the app store and find it among the 700,00 other apps. You download it to get all the great, pertinent information during the event. Then what? It’s this “then what” phase that Carin van Vuuren, CMO of Usablenet, has a problem with. From DigiDay:
“If you’re creating an app for every single campaign, then you’re not fully leveraging browser-based devices,” said Carin van Vuuren, CMO of Usablenet, an app and mobile website developer. “The companies that do this are likely not investing into a multichannel infrastructure and are using apps as a placeholder for that. It’s like app spam. It drives me crazy when I go to an event and they’re asking me to download the app. I’m not going to use this when I leave here, so why would I download it? So it clutters my phone? Send me to a URL. With HTML5, app-like experiences are very possible on the mobile Web.”
Ultimately, it’s not that hard to uninstall an app when you’re done with it. As long as a disposable app is free it’s possible that the benefits of having the app outweigh that minor inconvenience for consumers. There’s also far less chance of accidentally closing and losing the app than with a mobile website – which adds a level of convince.
It really comes down to whether or not brands feel disposable mobile apps with a built-in shelf life are worth the effort and expense of creation. As long as consumers continue using them, brands will keep producing them. So the power is in your hands, users. Do you think disposable apps are a good thing or do you find them annoying?