3 Ways to Slay (in a Post Mobile-Age)

Born in the heyday of the smartphone revolution, YML was made for mobile application design and development. And we rock at it. But, as we grow and position ourselves to best serve our clients, it’s clear apps are not the future. So what is?

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” ~ Wayne Gretzky

Eight years ago, mobile applications were the hot new technology—brands needed them, new businesses were born because of them. But today, not so much. In my experience, brands are trying to reduce their number of apps to just one (sometimes two—internal and external facing ones) and app strategies are about reduction, not addition. Added to this, consumers are downloading fewer apps—the majority of U.S. consumers still download zero apps per month...and 63 percent of users stop using apps within the first month.

Instead, brands are thinking up new engagement strategies; ways they can reach people via other platforms—apps, services, experiences—that already have engagement built in—like Siri, Alexa, Instagram, and Messenger. Or they are creating new experiences using web, AI/ML, TV, kiosks, or in-car interfaces, to name a few.

The mobile app industry is slowing down, and growth opportunities for digital product agencies specializing in apps are going to be much harder won. In short, brands are bringing their core products (apps) in-house, and off-app initiatives are becoming the strategic imperative.

So where does that leave digital product agencies like us? What’s next?

No worries: I have identified three ways to slay:

1. Marketing

It’s a dirty word: marketing. I’m a cord cutter. Pre-roll irritates the hell out of me (never a good brand experience). And I don’t think I have ever clicked on a banner. Awareness marketing is not something I wish to do, and it’s not the future. It’s loud, annoying, and constantly interrupts people, vying for their attention. But conversion marketing, that’s different. For example, if someone chooses to visit a website, they have expressed interest. They want to know more. Website content—words and pictures—needs to be alluring, convincing, impeccably on-brand. Shoppable items should be beautifully rendered, and a path to purchase should be easy to navigate with clear signposting. For an agency, the benefits of marketing are that it’s more seasonal, predictable. It’s simple: a brand launches a shoe, then three months later they launch another shoe. I believe that magic happens when the worlds of marketing and digital products converge to generate an engagement strategy and create experiences that include the energy of a brand moment with the well designed means to buy, subscribe for, or tailor a product or service to your liking. The kind of brands that I think do a great job of conversion marketing and website design are Everlane, Soul Cycle, and Square. Each brand’s website has a compelling story, look and feel, and useful, simple web based tools that help seal the deal.

2. Customer Experience

It should come as no surprise that in today’s increasingly customer focused world, user experience, human centered design, and Design (with a big D) are essential for building brands. It has been said that every company is—or should be—a service company, and great brands design exceptional, holistic experiences for their customers, and their employees. For example, have you ever been to a WeWork? Their staff are so amped to be there. That’s because the staff experience has been carefully designed to be awesome and it’s infectious. As a result, it gets passed on to the customers that work there, and it creates a brand halo. Someone once told me (a student) that ”design is a process for solving problems.” I think this is quite cool. Customer experience design (CX) is a fantastic way to truly affect digital transformation, evolving companies to be the best version of themselves. It’s an emerging field focused on connecting touchpoints, optimizing ecosystems, and designing the best experience at every touchpoint. At YML, our growing customer engagement strategy service includes user research, data analysis, stakeholder interviews, business and technology strategy. The output of which includes customer journeys, ecosystems maps, service design blueprints, and a vision brief. And they generally get developed before we start wireframes, prototypes, visual design. Brands killing it in the CXd field are AirBnB, Lyft, and (as previously mentioned) WeWork—each has best-in-class customer and employee experiences that help uplift the brand.

3. The Next Wave

We grew up on mobile. We rode the app wave. This wave isn’t going away soon, but it is slowing down. So what’s the next wave? It is our belief that data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are the next big frontier for brands (although we are exploring other tracks, like blockchain, IoT, and drones, too). The promise of AI is twofold: Better service (AI is instant, you don’t have to queue for it, it’s free) and more scale (AI can serve thousands of customers instantaneously, with minimal overhead). I think of AI like a brand’s digital brain; a service layer that sits above all of its digital products and services. These “brains” are, of course, a brand’s smarts, but they are also its personality. There is going to be a generation of consultancies that design and develop a brand’s brain—how a brand thinks, and how it behaves (and not just how it looks and feels). A brand’s intelligence should feel human, empathic, it should know you, personalizing your experience across every touchpoint on every device. Agencies that help design brands’ AI brains will also start designing how its intelligence and personality manifests in an app, on a website, on Alexa, or as a call center agent. A good example of brands that do AI well are Spotify’s music recommendation engine, and ASOS' visual search.

And so…

At the risk of giving away our company strategy, we have built expertise in all of these areas. We have hired world class talent, developed practices, and authored services for our clients. Our vision is to become our clients’ most valued partner, and this is the happy path that gets us there.

But, of course, we have not lost sight of our core competencies—engagement strategy, design, AND technology. Our strength is turning vision into execution, creating products and experiences that have lasting impact. We are fast and agile, and it’s how we make a difference for our clients and the customers they serve, when others get bogged down in the theoretical. We are strategic makers. We get stuff done. We believe in putting products in the hands of millions of people.

And deckware is our foe.

Cheers.

SEE ALSO: Why storytelling has the power to shape company culture>

Apple press conference and what it means for your mobile business

Apple's press conference a few days ago is something that many pundits dubbed predictable (http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-apple-iphone-ipad-live-updates-20160321-htmlstory.html), but there were quite a few announcements that have a direct impact on companies with a mobile presence on the iOS platform

In this article we will quickly go over what's new and how it will impact your business. We will specifically focus on the release of iPhone 4 SE and the iOS 9.3 upgrade. We will also help summarize what each company needs to do to be on top of the (mobile) game.

New 4 inch display iPhone dubbed iPhone SE

"Small is bigger" is the motto Apple is clearly following. Whereas not a complete surprise, Apple announced their new iPhone SE – a 4 inch phone that customers can start ordering immediately. Additionally, Apple surprised everyone by making the base configuration available at only $399, Apple's lowest price ever.

iPhone SE

What this means for businesses with a mobile presence:

1. The price point of this new iPhone is clearly Apple's attempt to compete in an Android led market.

Whereas this is great for Apple (more sales), it does muddy the waters for current mobile businesses. Why? Apple has traditionally attracted a clientele that spends considerably more money on their phones than their Android counterparts.

While Apple only controls 42% of the US market it brings in 80% more revenue than Android (source: https://ymedialabs.com/should-you-develop-your-mobile-app-for-ios-or-android-this-is-how-to-make-the-decision/) With the emergence of the cheapest Apple phone ever we should expect various metrics to change as a result of shifting the paradigm of who can afford an iPhone. 

In other words, expected revenue per iOS user may decrease significantly over the next year which will impact your own projections on expected sales and long term value of a user. On the bright side, you may be able to attract more users as a result of this affordable iPhone.

2. The small screen size will need to become a priority for developers / designers / user experience architects

Since 2014, the average screen size for a smartphone around the US has been 5 inches or more (source: https://medium.com/@somospostpc/a-comprehensive-look-at-smartphone-screen-size-statistics-and-trends-e61d77001ebe#.cj02wre1u). In a way, Apple is swimming against the currents by investing in a smaller screen size than what the majority of people use.

This will impact your business directly because now the 4 inch screen will need to become your baseline for both UX/design. This will pose a significant amount of challenges on how information is displayed and how users interact with an app.

Given the recent adjustment I advise every company to do a thorough analysis of their application on a 4 inch screen. Most companies already support this screen size but the real question is: are you providing an exceptional experience? If this screen size will become the norm for Apple products, "just good enough" won't cut it. You need your company to provide a stellar experience on iPhone SE.

This is the time to brush up on best design practices for various form factors. We have published an article that will give you access to the best design blogs in the industry to get you started. (source: https://ymedialabs.com/ultimate-mobile-design-trends-2016/)

3. App performance needs to be revisited

Apple made a bold statement: they claimed iPhone SE will be as fast as Apple 6 and significantly faster than all the older models given the new A9 chip core. As users get used to the new experience and system performance you need to ensure that your own application is up to par. App performance issues represent one of the biggest complains users make in general.

But what Apple is doing is changing the rules of the game by making their phones significantly faster. And unless your app matches this changing trend in terms of overall system performance, you will see an uptick in terms of bad app reviews and a drop in app usage over the next year. Apple changed the rules of the game. Now you need to adapt to the new reality by analyzing your app' performance and fine-tuning it.

4. Touch ID authentication is the new norm

Apple made it very clear that iPhone SE will come with touch authentication – one of the most celebrated features across the board for newer Apple models. If you haven't done it already, when you require user authentication on the app you need to start supporting touch ID authentication. This is another norm established by Apple that is here to stay and Apple users will expect you to support this functionality. Even the Apple Notes app is getting this new functionality enabled. So should your app!

iOS 9.3 was released

The other important news coming out of the press conference is the fact that Apple is releasing a new version of their iOS dubbed "iOS 9.3". This impacts most of the iPhones currently in usage and it impacts businesses directly as well.

What this means for businesses with a mobile presence:

1. Night Shift is here

Apple announced the launch of Night Shift – the ability for the phone's brightness to adjust automatically based on the time of day. The benefit to the user is that as the color temperature of the screen changes, the customer can go to sleep faster.

With the overwhelming majority of smartphone users accessing apps and mobile websites right before going to sleep this is a critical upgrade from a business point of view. Why? Is your app or mobile website using various tones of blue or other colors that will be impacted as the iPhone's screen gradually dims? If so, you need to rethink your design colors and palates. Otherwise, your app's color scheme will frustrate users trying to use it before going to bed.
With the new upgrade, the Apple News app will feature native ads in a format in which ads resemble articles. This becomes a new funnel through which you can effectively market your application to iOS users to attract new customer to your own mobile application. Mobile marketers should certainly explore the new functionality and learn how to use is as a vehicle for user acquisition given the ever growing popularity of this Apple native app. 

NIGHT_SHIFHT_IOS9.3

3. 3D touch features on iOS 9.3 are being updated

3D touch has already been available in iPhone 6s and 6s+ but with iOS 9.3, Apple is trying to make the functionality even more appealing and easy to use. 3D touch is when a user performs a hard press on an app icon. A soft press will launch an app. A hard press will allow the user to choose between various Quick Actions – a short menu list that the user can choose from.

If you haven't already implemented this quick menu – you should. It gets the user quicker to completing the 1 or 2 tasks that your app is designed for. As Apple continues to update 3D touch functionality, using this feature will become more of a common practice and something users expect to see.

+