By Jack M. Germain
May 27, 2021 4:17 AM PT
Most businesses today that want an app have an app. But having one is not the entire process. The app maker and the business behind the mobile application still need to get it to actually work effectively.
Because more people are using apps, many businesses are focusing on the bells and whistles to help them stand out — instead of designing the apps to reach optimal efficiency. Often, the app maker is more focused on monetizing a greater share from app users than seeing the third-party entity gain a hefty revenue slice.
Often stuck in the middle are the consumers who download and install the mobile apps, then contend with a less-than-pleasant user experience. They also have to tolerate shoddy — and even potentially dangerous — app performance.
This is a problem for both the business and the app developer. Flashy apps only enhance the user experience when the app is fully capable of doing what it needs to. Making sure an app works on both ends, even for the simplest tasks, is crucial to producing a high-quality application that all parties involved in the business process find valuable.
The bottom line for both business owners and app developers is that more times than not, app functionality falls short. Business owners must identify these shortcomings in their own app in order to provide customers with a fully functioning and engaging user experience. The pressure is on as mobile app usage continues to skyrocket.
At the root of this problem is a difficult dichotomy that exists between monetizing a mobile app and creating a positive user experience, according to Hank Schless, senior manager for security solutions at Lookout. Mobile app developers are constantly under pressure to deliver the latest engaging updates to users as well as find ways to monetize their apps.
“Most mobile users see ads as invasive and feel like it cheapens the overall experience. In order to monetize the app in a less invasive way than ads that take up a majority of the screen, developers often integrate questionable mobile ad software development kits (SDKs) that can run in the background,” he told TechNewsWorld.
SDKs are a collection of software development tools in one installable package. They provide a developer with the ability to build a custom app that can be added on, or connected to, another program.
The most prominent example of an invasive advertising SDK is the Mintegral SDK for iOS apps, he added. This SDK, dubbed Sourmint, has extensive visibility into user devices, sends URL requests from the app into which it is integrated back to a third-party server, and can allegedly report false clicks on ads.
“These capabilities cause any app with this SDK to be categorized as riskware, which means that there may not be outright malicious functionality in the app, but it could violate user privacy and corporate data usage guidelines,” he explained.
Organizations need to have insight into their mobile fleet to understand if any apps on employee devices use risky ad SDKs like Sourmint, he warned.
“However, while advertising SDKs may not be visually invasive, there is the risk that personally invasive capabilities are hidden deep in the software’s code,” he said.
When app development teams are pressed to push out new app versions, they might not run these SDKs through a proper security review.
A big part of this functionality problem is that developers can miss the points that are important to the business behind the mobile app, according to Mike Welsh, chief creative officer at the digital consultancy firm Mobiquity. This is where the theory of silent utility comes into play.
That happens when, for example, the retailer behind the app misses the app developer’s focus on the features the retailer did not care about. This can involve the retail experience and selling their goods or services.
“What they often skip is that consumers only use 20 percent of the app’s functionality anyway. Developers do not spend any energy on making the onboarding and the cart checkout experiences,” Welsh told TechNewsWorld.
The app developers scatter across a landscape of different features and functions that users do not use. So the retailer’s sales efforts are going to fall flat despite having spent time, money, and energy on features that are never going to get used and in fact become a risk in the app store, he explained.
“You do not want a one-star rating on a feature you would like. There is a motivation for businesses to really think carefully about having functionality that is meaningful for users that achieves their silent utility,” noted Welsh. “I do not care to hear about your ratings and reviews in my app, because it is a liability for me.”
Consistency Is Essential
The challenge is for the retailer or website owner to identify and then solve customer experience problems. The trick is research, not data or surveys that nobody fills out that are self-selecting anyway. The solution lies with using actual real research into that behavior, Welsh suggested.
A lot of the time, businesses tend to pull out their PowerPoints and their spreadsheets and all that other nonsense. They let that guide their behavior, and it all is internally focused, he added.
Retailers and app developers need to be on the same page for what the app must accomplish. Both need to know the driver for actually having an app. The purpose of having an app developer is usually trying to get in on the purchase for the revenue. In that case, the app developer is going to strip away all the things that get in the way of revenue development.
If you are a retailer who has a digital channel set up, inclusive of an app, a website, retail store, and physical locations, you need to have consistency across those properties. Those retailers then must start making road map choices around an overarching vision for what they want for their consumers.
Welsh sees the consistency issue as one of the chief factors in connecting mobile apps to the overall e-commerce operation. Consumers sit behind a variety of devices. Each one provides a different set of user experiences. Consistency of those experiences is what matters.
“There has to be one platform, one operating system. I don’t mean like iOS or Android. I mean, there has to be one sort of mentality of these companies to create a platform for consumers to experience,” he said.
Companies have to start realizing that they are building a system for the transaction part of it. Welsh wants consumers to have the same experience across all devices. The user experience needs to be unified whether connected via mobile app, website, or retail outlet kiosks.
Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.