SVP of the Bugsnag Product Group at SmartBear.
Over the past year, Covid-19 dramatically changed the way people live and work. We all experienced it firsthand: As a result of the lockdowns, we began purchasing more items online, using more internet-based services and many of us started working remotely full-time.
With the pandemic abating and lockdowns ending, these trends will change, but only to a degree. The world won’t ever depend on brick-and-mortar settings — for buying necessities, leisure, healthcare, work and more — as much as they did before the pandemic. Covid-19 ushered in a new era of digital transformation, and it’s here to stay.
The Importance Of Apps In A Digitally Transformed World
Apps are more important than ever in this new, post-pandemic era of digital transformation. According to recent data from App Annie, in Q1 2021, consumers across the globe spent an average of 4.2 hours per day using apps — an increase of 30% from Q1 2019. Average daily app time skyrocketed in emerging economies like India (up 80% from Q1 2019), Russia (up 50%) and Brazil (up 35%), but even in a mature market like the U.S., app time was up 25%.
Whether they’re playing the popular new Crash Bandicoot game on their smartphone or running reports in Salesforce, people today rely heavily on mobile and web apps in both their personal and professional lives. That’s why a good app experience is so critical for organizations across every industry.
In today’s digital-first world, app quality can’t be an afterthought for any business. We’ve found that the app experience directly impacts a variety of critical KPIs, such as customer satisfaction, conversion, retention and loyalty rates, average session length, churn rate, average order value and, of course, revenue. And with the significant uptick in people leveraging online services, new apps are constantly being launched. For example, from 2018 to 2020, there were 1.1 million apps added to the Apple App Store, increasing the total by over one-third in just two years.
Pick any specific category today — food delivery, tax filing, HR management — and you’ll find dozens or even hundreds of different apps. The major enterprises with the top apps in each of these categories understand how important the app experience is. This is why they employ massive software engineering teams to continually test and monitor their app quality and make frequent updates to fix any bugs, add new features and keep improving the overall user experience. If your organization isn’t prioritizing and optimizing its application health, your business will undoubtedly suffer in this competitive landscape.
Improving The App Experience
So, what makes for a good app? Above all, users expect a smooth and error-free app experience. They’re quick to abandon apps that crash or stall. As noted above, there are countless competitor apps offering similar services. If your app fails too often, users can download an alternative within seconds.
As I discussed in my previous piece, app stability is ultimately the most basic metric for evaluating app health. You can calculate app stability in two ways: either as a percentage of sessions that don’t fail or encounter an unhandled exception or as the percentage of regular daily users who don’t experience an error. App stability provides a fundamental insight: It tells you how often your app actually works.
App crashes and failures are caused by coding errors. To maintain stable apps, your software engineering team needs to be equipped with methods that make it easy to detect, diagnose and correct bugs. Automation should be used to aid this process as much as possible.
In addition, there are several strategies, such as code ownership, that help accelerate debugging efforts. With code ownership, organizations create code owner files to determine which engineers or teams are responsible for each section of code, feature flags or experiments.
Stability should always be the first priority. It’s the single most important consideration for creating a great app experience. Once your app stability is high enough and you have the tools in place to identify and fix any bugs that hurt stability, then you can turn toward optimizing your app in other ways. There are several things that make for a quality app experience. For one, good apps should incorporate exciting new features on a regular basis. New features make the app experience feel fresh and keep users engaged in the long term.
But features shouldn’t be added simply for the sake of it — you need to be sure that users actually like them. For instance, if you roll out a revamped sign-up button and a key KPI declines, such as customer conversion, it likely means that feature isn’t resonating with users, and it should be removed.
The user interface also has a major impact on the app experience. Every app should employ a sleek UI that’s inviting and makes it easy to navigate the app. As with features, software engineers should carefully monitor metrics to determine how users respond to any changes in the UI. They should revert any updates that people seem to dislike.
The companies with the highest performing apps are always testing and experimenting with new ways to improve their apps, whether that be in the form of additional features or an updated UI. These organizations look closely at how changes affect user behavior and respond accordingly — they keep things that work and discard those that don’t.
Start With App Stability, Then Look At Other Optimizations
Rapid digital transformation has changed people’s daily habits and altered how they consume goods and services forever. To succeed in a crowded market, dominated by a handful of tech-savvy major enterprises, your business must offer customers a good app experience. To do that, your apps must be stable before anything else. The coolest features and best design won’t mean much if people can’t use your app without it crashing. Once you’re able to deliver a reliable, quality experience, then you can take your app to the next level by rolling out new features and other additions.