App-Market Fit: If You Aren’t On My Homescreen, Your App Is Probably a Tombstone

A friend of mine asked me last week, “So, what apps do you use?”

It was a good question, so I whipped out my iPhone and started looking through. I was shocked to see I have 102 apps on my phone. Wow, that’s a lot of apps, I thought to myself. Then I started scrolling through and realized how many of them I hadn’t touched in… well, since I could last remember.

Dead apps. Tombstones of a great app description and a non-compelling solution.

Row after row of dead apps. And surprisingly, all of them lived on screens after my homescreen. The homescreen. Turns out it’s home to all of those apps I’d say I use either daily, weekly or really frequently during short infrequent bursts. iMessage, Google Maps, App Store, Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Couple, Zaarly, Instagram, Tripit and even Tetris (my guilty pleasure while wasting a few minutes). Go one screen in and it’s a wasteland. I did a count and of the ~90 apps not on my homescreen, two I’d used in the past week (Weather & LinkedIn) and four in the last month (Timehop, Bank of America - to deposit a check, Taxi Magic & ParkMobile - to ‘feed the meter’).

Whoa. Six apps out of nearly a hundred I could even recall touching in the past month. A few others I thought I’d use in the future (OpenTable and maybe Flipboard, Uber or Lyft). It’s shocking if you really think about it… I’d say 95% of my app activity is locked onto the home screen. I’m not sure I’d consider myself normal from a smart phone usage pattern, but I wonder if the simplicity of the home screen really is a key. I can honestly say if Apple forced me to only have 16 apps, I could do it… no problem and no issues.

Is there a lesson in here?

Unless you can build a mobile app that your users will and are consistently putting on their homescreen, I don’t think you have App-Market Fit. Even sixteen apps seems like a lot to incorporate into my life.

Breaking my apps by category, here’s what I saw:

– Five (5) Communication Apps (iMessage, Couple, Twitter, Tweetbot, Facebook)

– Two (2) Photo Apps (Camera, Instagram)

– Two (2) Travel Apps (Google Maps, Tripit)

– Two (2) Productivity Apps (Calendar, Evernote)

– One (1) Game (Tetris)

– Three (3) Utility Apps (Settings, App Store, Folder with Calculator+Clock)

My Own Company’s App (Zaarly)

My Homescreen

The commonalities are that these apps help me communicate, consume content, capture content and live more productively. I’d say all are part of my ‘smart-phone’ powered life. I’m not a huge folders guy (in fact the folder on my homescreen is the only one). And I’m a very frequent user of the four bottom bar apps (phone, mail, Safari and Music), and I can’t foresee any of the apps above replacing those four (I even tried Mailbox and was ‘meh’ about it).

What would it take to get your app onto my homescreen?

Well, you’d probably have to bump one of my Twitter clients or the Settings Apps. Do-able. You’d probably be fighting with Open Table, which is “On Deck” in my brain. If I was living in SF again, I’d say you’d be fighting with Lyft or Uber.

If you are building a new app or have an app targeted at smart phone users, I think you need to have a ‘home screen’ strategy. It’s great to have 96 apps on my phone, but I am really only patronizing the first 16, plus their four compatriots in the bottom bar. And unless you can convince your users to bump another app and put a spot for you in the ‘home’, I’m not convinced you can capture mindshare.

I think there are a few apps that are doing a good job at capturing Home Screen real estate based on what I hear from friends. The taxi and ride apps such as Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and TaxiMagic are common for frequent taxi takers, but still seem part of the tech set for the most part. Instagram and Path are both common ones I see (Path more in the startup/tech scene though). Pandora and Spotify seem common homescreen music apps, and I see a few fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal and Nike on home screens. Yelp, Foursquare and Open Table are each players for real estate. And games continue to be a common one, but there seems to be little commonality there other than Words With Friends, Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies.

Do you have a strategy to get on my homescreen? Is it something you activity “teach” your users, ask for or recommend? Are there any companies that have done a great job at getting on that home screen?

I have no data to back this up, but I’d bet that 80-90% of any app’s Daily Active Users have that app on the home screen.

What is missing from the list?

A better address book could snag a spot – Brewster is trying that route. Hotel Tonight and Hipmunk could snag a spot for travel, but I don’t find myself booking travel on my phone much. I also see a spot potentially for online document management, which is currently being fought by DropBox and Google Drive.

And listen, if you think by blasting me with a bunch of push notifications (glares over at Groupon and Living Social apps) that I’m going to put you on the homescreen, you are sadly mistaken. ;-)

Smart phones are inherently an extension of the owner. My apps are personal to me, but I do think it is common that we spend 90% of our time with 5-10% of our apps. And as you think about your app, figure out how to make something your community and your audience love. If you build and market something mainstream, you’ll find yourself in the app graveyard and then you’ve got a bunch of downloads and an inactive community.

So just what would it take for me to get an app onto your homescreen?


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