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September 18, 2018updated 22 Jul 2022 6:04am

Making Subscription Apps Work: The Holy Grail of App Development

"An extra cut of the App Store pie is a pretty huge deal for app developers... But it’s a long hard road to full adoption of subscription-based models and the path is littered with obstacles"

By CBR Staff Writer

There is a booming market for mobile services and apps, as consumers spend more time accessing information and completing tasks on their mobile devices than ever.

It’s widely accepted that simple design, a seamless user interface and intuitive navigation will make an app easy and enjoyable to use, and the development of personalised experiences will help keep the mobile app experience relevant and ensure users continue coming back.

subscription apps

Eran Kinsbruner, lead technical evangelist for Perfecto.

But the market is cutthroat, and with a plethora of (often free) apps available, monetising mobile applications is harder than it seems.

According to Apple, which met with its most prolific developers last year to discuss just this, the secret is in a shift away from “one-time purchasing” towards subscription services. Single purchases, it says, can prove prohibitively costly from both a services and development perspective whereas subscriptions generate more consistent revenue for developers. Get it right and developers can make more money while establishing deeper and more dynamic relationships with customers

However, this important shift is easier said than done. Today creating well-performing subscription apps is extremely challenging – and building one calls for a fundamental shift in the way apps are developed, delivered and maintained.

This is no easy feat, but here’s some advice for getting it right.

Tip 1: Prioritise Simplicity

The latest technology developments, such as augmented, virtual and mixed reality, are waves in the app market. The possibilities of what an app can do are seemingly endless, but cramming a mobile app full of features that aren’t essential to the tasks users want to complete will likely make the app slow and difficult to navigate – and could end up doing more harm than good in terms of user experience.

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Users want intuitive app navigation, so simplicity is key. Developers should carefully consider the tasks users want to complete when they access an app and focus all their attention on making those tasks as easy and compelling as possible.

In addition, an effective app should have very low requirements from the device it sits on. No customer will change their mobile device or upgrade it just because of an app. The user would rather move on to other brands with low-requirement mobile apps, or ditch the app completely. With this in mind, it makes a whole lot of business sense to make your app work on low specifications.

Tip 2: Deliver Consistent Value

Simplicity is of course crucial, but this mustn’t detract for the need to deliver consistent value. With a plethora of free apps available, users already demand a high-level of value from anything they need to pay for, and subscription-based apps have an even higher bar of expectations.

When paying for a subscription-based service, customers expect consistent value, and when defining consistent value to the customer, especially in a mobile lens, this means timely updates to support new iOS platform releases and devices, and innovative and cutting-edge functionalities that are not available in any free service.

From a developer viewpoint that means to always be in touch with the iOS market, as well as with customers, to anticipate upcoming major releases, get new demand for features that are lacking, and retire irrelevant features that aren’t used by the customers. To achieve this, there needs to be a method of gathering customer feedback through monitoring services, surveys, and more.

Tip 3: Deliver Consistent Quality

Whilst valuable features are key to the success of subscription-based apps, continuous quality of the apps across all iOS platforms is also crucial in retaining happy customers.

Subscription apps must be intuitive, responsive, and above all, perform well. Continuous testing is essential to catching bugs early and ensuring the smooth running of an app, and it’s here where developers must focus their efforts.

Of course, software will always encounter defects and in high peak usage some outages may occur. In this case, customer service is key – which doesn’t just mean communication, but also creative solutions to mitigate interruptions as much as possible when issues with the app do arise.

Whilst responding to customers in a timely manner, developers must also be fixing issues just as quickly. To do so, they must have a robust analysis solution that will help them pinpoint the issue and its root cause, leading them to a resolution. Fast feedback to developers through monitoring systems and test automation code is an important way of addressing issues and delivering patches to end users.

So, the writing is on the wall and subscription-based apps are undoubtedly the future in a crowded and competitive market. And seeing the popularity of this model, last year Apple introduced a change in the App Store that emphasises app subscription delivery by offering developers an 85/15 revenue split (rather than the standard 70/30 split) for subscriptions lasting over a year.

This extra cut of the App Store pie is a pretty huge deal for app developers, leading those who were on the fence about subscription-based apps to give this revenue model a closer look. But it’s a long hard road to full adoption of subscription-based models and the path is littered with obstacles.

Proving value and convincing customers to subscribe to a service requires time, appealing features and strong marketing engines. It’s vital that developers are committed to delivering both consistent value and consistent quality to reap the rewards that subscriptions have to offer.

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