App Aversion: We Used to Download and Try Apps All the Time, What Changed?
My first Android smartphone fascinated me, and as was the case with many at XDA, a big part of my slow descent into all things Android were apps, any kind of app, and every app that I found interesting.
Since then, my usage patterns have changed. I no longer seek them out as much nor try as many applications as I once did, nor do I get the same excitement and curiosity I did back in the day. Part of me tells me that’s just because I’ve done too much on Android, and now after several years I know precisely what I want. But when looking at the situation with some insight and pondering, I found many possible reasons as to why this is not just me, but a more complicated epiphenomenon — one that probably affects you too.
These days, the only applications I actively care to seek out and try are those from the community — apps from our forums, or the ones fellow users send me to check out, test, and give feedback on. Occasionally we end up featuring said apps due to their potential or execution.
Apps from the Play Store typically don’t stay on my phone for very long. I’ve noticed that this is a trend among some XDA friends as well — they like sleek, clean phones experiences without unneeded clutter. Indeed, having non-key applications you rarely ever use can add clutter to the phone, if not detrimental effects in performance, battery life, and a toll on your storage. These can be minuscule, but if the application is not used, unjustifiable, and the more you have, the worse it gets.
Each new Android version focuses more and more in integrating Google deeper into the core
Yet it goes deeper than just wanting less clutter on one’s phone: the entire Android ecosystem has changed since the early days where apps were the undisputable front and center of the smartphone experience. A curious observation is the fact that I see less and less “app store competition” advertisements, publications, reports, etc. I think that, partially, Android is now moving away from the quest of getting “more and better apps” to just getting “better services”.
“The volume of apps has grown dramatically, yet the Play Store has not properly accommodated such growth.”
The volume of apps has grown dramatically, yet the Play Store has not properly accommodated such growth in various ways. A quick example is its search function, which users had complained about for years as it didn’t allow for efficient app discovery. Many developers know how hard it can be to get an app noticed, yet by mere chance one can somehow land a viral killer app such as Flappy Bird. Said app was one of the many phenomenon “flavor of the month” apps which only reinforced another problem: imitation. The Play Store is not just voluminous, it’s also unnecessarily bloated. Consider the number of imitation apps out there, all using derivative naming conventions that clearly allude to the subject of forgery.
And as is the case with games in particular, and usually (but not exclusively) simpler games, we see Freemium models which can be said to defer trust from customers, and perhaps make them refrain from downloads in the future. Most importantly, though, the insane volume of applications and their complicated discovery pushes competition that can be met either (but not exclusively) with insightful originality or bland imitation like the aforementioned games, which only occasionally reformulate the experience substantially enough or make it superior.
We all love original, useful, or curiously enticing applications. The troublesome part for those behind applications is that today’s standards in the realm of polish and design have risen. Many users outright refuse to use apps that aren’t polished, well designed, good looking… sometimes regardless of all of its advantages. This problem was arguably augmented with Material Design, which slightly raised the bar for developers and app design but also gave developers the tools to make applications that are beautiful on paper and original in their design execution (think of, for example, radical animations in certain apps that are material-ish). This boosts an extra layer of competition which should ultimately benefit consumers, but only if form doesn’t overtake function.
As it stands, this often affects starting developers, regardless of the originality of their ideas, given the amount of time, effort, and even resources that must go into creating good-looking and/or promotable packages. I’ve helped XDA app creators with feedback over the past few months, and I often have to commend them for their originality but suggest they redesign the application, if not the presentation in their thread and Play Store entry. “User experience” has taken over the joy of trying out a neat new application, and big services – particularly big social media services – are also taking huge chunks of the smartphone user’s time. Some of said services allow developers to create their own (often limited) clients, which also adds to the app store volume (and perhaps clutter) with the benefit of allowing for different experiences of a same service.
When we recommend smartphones to friends and family, it’s not rare for us to think they might not use anything but social media
Big social media services are a culprit since smartphones are, for many many users, practically synonymous with social media. Newer smartphone adopters (and parents…) might experience the lovely “app testing” honeymoon phase most of us had, but some go straight to what is relevant to them and their social lives, and that is often social networks/media. When we recommend smartphones to friends and family, it’s not rare for us to think they might not use anything but social networks/media. Hence the idea among our circles that for most people, most phones are good enough, since they are good enough for Facebook (and such). And as social media takes more of a smartphone user’s time, and a bigger share of said time, it gets harder (and sometimes more frustrating) to fully learn an important application, or for other services to make their way into a user’s screen-on-time.
This is particularly true for applications with a lot of hassle, or that have you create a profile (with yet another password!) just to try out the service. Some of these services can be added to one’s workflow, and actually enrich the user’s experience. But at the same time, the level of inertia to break in some apps, for busy users in particular, can detract many from taking the plunge. I know I’ve been there, procrastinating on an application I’ve been suggested only to find out that it was actually very useful for me, but only after spending quite some time setting it up. In part, this is also because many apps now cover many functions, and many functions we used apps for are now covered by Android itself, or OEM UIs, or ROMs we install.
And finally, we have the paradox of choice tying it all up: there are too many options out there, so many that plenty of users can’t even begin picking a new app by themselves. This coupled with the limitations of app discovery in the Play Store means that even if you know what you want, finding the right application for the job can be a daunting task.
All of these are merely partial explanations or observations I’ve made along the years. Apps are not dying, but the ever-changing demand of consumers has clearly shifted, sometimes maturing and in some aspects regressing. The presence of millions of apps, the detrimental effects of indiscriminate app installations, dealing with the Play Store (which, while not my app discovery solution and perhaps not yours, is still many’s), the increasing expectations of each of us from UX and design, and many other factors have changed the app ecosystem dramatically.
So what do you think? Do you try or use as many apps as before? Let us know in the comments!