How to Avoid Feature Fatigue in Mobile App Development

Improve the Mobile App Experience and Keep Customers for Life!

When Apple’s App Store launched in 2008, it offered 500 apps for download. Today, both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store have upwards of 2.5M – 3M apps each[1]. In addition to steady market penetration on the smartphone front, tablets have also seen triple-digit increases in usage within the past ten years. What does this mean for mobile app developers? There’s a big market out there for your product, and it’s not going anywhere.

It’s important to note, however, although app users install between 60 and 90 apps on their smartphones, research shows that the majority of their time is spent using just three apps[2]. 

One consistent feature that the most popular apps have in common—they’re simple. Take the ever-controversial TikTok, for instance. Its functionality is quite basic. Users can create videos of up to 15 seconds and string those videos together to create stories of no more than 60 seconds. Started in 2016 and now available in more than 150 countries, TikTok boasts more than one billion users[3]. It has even become somewhat of a mainstay with people in #quarantine due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Instagram is another very popular app with a limited set of features but has gained massive popularity for its simplicity and ease of use. Even Facebook gets the value of clearness and ease. They migrated their messaging feature[4] to a standalone app, Messenger, after realizing that the user experience of trying to balance both a newsfeed and messaging platform was too overwhelming and disjointed. 

The big takeaway message for app developers: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Mobile App Development

How to Build a Feature List for a Mobile App

Transforming your app from an idea into a product is no easy feat. The key from traveling from an initial concept to ensuring your app will gain traction and be used is always, the end user. Companies must provide value in some meaningful way to the people who will be downloading your app. We can refer to these elements as a “feature list” or a “feature set”—the things your app must have, or do, to solve an issue or address a need. So, when considering the features that you will incorporate, ask yourself these essential questions:   

  • Will this feature solve a problem for the user?
  • How does this feature offer value to the user?
  • Is this feature necessary for phase one or can it be saved for future development?
  • What is required to develop this feature?

Better yet—don’t just ask yourself, seek input from people who represent your target audience. What features would they value most? What features would they be most likely to use? What features would they consider to be necessary and unnecessary?

Then prioritize your list to identify the top features that are most likely to provide value to your audience. These are the features to build into your app—the MVP (or minimal viable product) that you need to produce to delight end users. And, remember—keeping it simple is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing!

5 Ways to Avoid Feature Overload

Building too many features into your app too often results in feature overload. Research shows, app users value simplicity. An app with a singular focus and clear functionality will beat out apps that are too feature-heavy every day. As you consider prioritizing the list of features you’ll include in your app, keep these important tips in mind to avoid feature fatigue. 

  1. Focus on usability (not utility). What’s the difference between usability and utility? Utility is what your app does. Usability is how it does it. And, most significantly, how it does it from the user perspective. Your users have absolutely no interest in how your app works “behind the curtains.” They have a significant amount of interest, though, in what it does for them.

  2. Display certain features at key moments. Understanding how and when users will engage with your app can give you important insights into the features that they will need to access at key moments. For instance, when Facebook users see a cute puppy video they want to be able to easily share that video—to their stream, or directly with a friend. When consumers are walking through a shopping area on a hot summer day, they’re likely to be delighted to be delivered a coupon for an ice cream cone at a store a few feet from where they’re at.

  3. Follow your original product vision. The problem you’re trying to solve will lead to your initial product vision (and hopefully, clear business requirements). That vision will set the stage for the identification and development of features designed to solve that problem, and therefore, add value, to end users. As you go down this path, though, it’s not uncommon to keep thinking of more features you could add, or more things that your app could do.

    Some of these things may be relevant, others are likely not. Be careful not to stray too far from your original vision. As new features come to mind, think back to your MVP and business requirements to determine whether they rise to the top of your list or need to move to the back burner for a future version or feature upgrade.

  4. Enable features for specific customers who need them. All customers are not created equal. They will have different needs depending on their unique and personal situations. To the extent you can, consider these differing needs so that your app provides value to specific subsets of users.

  5. Gather user feedback quickly. The beauty of online apps and the digital environment is the ability to capture and, potentially, act on information and insights quickly. Aggregate and analyze user data as quickly as possible to help you learn how users are actually using your app—and how often. You may even want to consider using an app review plugin[5], as Neil Patel recommends. It’s a great way to get real feedback in real time. 

Final Thoughts

If it’s not already crystal clear, the inconspicuous yet matter-of-fact truth to mobile app development is that less is more. In fact, the "paradox of choice" states that the more choices we have, the less happy we are with the choices that we make. It’s a term that Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, coined in 2004. The paradox of choice captures a belief contrary to the human default, “people presented with more options may have a harder time choosing between them—and feel less satisfied with their final decisions.” When it comes to successful app development, KISS is always a good bet: Keep It Simple (Silly). 

Also see:

13 Mobile App Development Trends

React Native App Development vs. iPhone & Android App Development

References:

[1] https://buildfire.com/app-statistics/

[2] https://buildfire.com/app-statistics/

[3] https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/

[4] https://www.theverge.com/2014/11/6/7170791/mark-zuckerberg-finally-explains-why-he-forced-you-to-download-the

[5] https://neilpatel.com/blog/increase-mobile-app-reviews/

John Griffin

John is the CEO and co-founder of Spiral Scout, a software development company based in San Francisco, California.

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