The iOS App Store first launched in July 2008. Over the last decade, it grew from 25,000 apps available in 2008 to 3.2 million apps in 2018. The Android App Store launched in December 2009, and the number of apps available went from 16,000 in the first year to 2.6 million in 2018.
In the early days of these mobile platforms, apps were few and easy to find. Today, there is an overwhelming abundance of apps to choose from. 2018 alone saw 205 billion app downloads worldwide. Mobile phone home screens are now cluttered with a hundred or more apps.
The apps are either organized into folders or spread across multiple pages:
In both cases, it is easy for an individual app to get buried in a folder, or banished to the obscurity of page 3 or later. For app developers, this can be the death knell for their apps. They will be opened less and less frequently, till they fade completely from significance. Out of sight is out of mind.
So, how do apps stay relevant in 2018? How do they remain at the forefront of the user’s mind?
One answer is by leveraging push notifications.
These are some example notification center screens:
There’s more breathing room here, and an app has the opportunity to be seen and heard.
Sometimes app developers treat notifications as an afterthought, as an add-on feature for the app. But this grossly underestimates their importance. In today’s world, there has been a gradual shift in mobile phone usage patterns from the traditional pull model to a push-driven experience. Where before people would browse to locate their apps and open them, now, the onus is on the apps to reach out through notifications.
Notifications are rapidly becoming the primary interface for mobile computing. The notification center has replaced the home screen as the front door to the phone. App developers cannot afford to ignore the burgeoning influence of notifications on the level of engagement with their apps.
As more and more apps understand this and deploy the power of notifications, even the notification center can become competitive. Frequent changes to the mobile platforms also present new challenges to app developers.
One example is the recent iOS change that makes it easy for a user to disable or silence all notifications from an app, from the lock screen itself:
Such changes make it vital for apps to deliver a compelling notification experience. That means figuring out the right number of notifications to send to each person. It also means that notifications need to be relevant, timely, and actionable. Their content should be useful to the customers and personalized to their preferences, if possible. Notifications should be delivered at a time when customers are most likely to engage with them. They should never be allowed to feel like superfluous interruptions (a subsequent post in this blog will elaborate on what makes a notification great. Follow our blog to know more).
At their best, notifications not only deliver immediate value to customers but also remind them of all the good things the app has to offer. Then customers start using the app more often, of their own accord, reducing the reliance on being prompted by notifications.
Mobile notifications are more important than ever today. The notification center is the new home screen of the mobile phone. For app developers building new mobile apps, don’t put off notifications as a bonus feature. Think of them as an integral part of your app. Think of them as an extension of the core value proposition that your app delivers. How you build your notifications can be a decisive factor in the ability of your app to survive and thrive in an overcrowded world.
By: Varun Vaswani
Opinions expressed here are solely the author’s and do not represent the views of any employer or organization