The table stakes have changed once again, and the bar for a company’s mobile presence continues to rise. It’s not enough anymore to just have a mobile footprint—it needs to flawlessly satisfy all of your consumers needs and package it in a robust user experience.
For a while, the debate on the best way to achieve this was one between the native app and the mobile-responsive site. And though the success of each strategy depends on a variety of factors, most mid- to large-sized companies opt to build native apps.
But this has given way to a new controversy: is it better to represent your business with a singular, catch-all app, one that’s versatile enough to be a one-stop-shop for your users? Or instead offer a suite of highly specialized mobile apps, and perform a sort of digital divide-and-conquer?
Major enterprises seem to be leaning towards the latter, with social media giants in particular rolling out extensive ‘app constellations’, a term coined by Fred Wilsonback in 2014. LinkedIn’s app constellation is a suite of ten different platforms—Facebook has over twenty.
App constellations are suites of connected mobile platforms published by a single company (Source)
These companies perch atop the App Store’s leaderboard, but is it because of their multi-app strategy? Can your business leverage a similar approach to find success in the digital realm? We diagnosed some of the pros and cons of these constellation creations to help you decide.
As a UX design agency, our first instinct is to examine this mobile strategy through the lens of user experience. And from this perspective, splitting your services into separate, but connected platforms makes sense.
Trying to cram every functionality, feature, and form into one application is a UX nightmare—it’s a recipe for a platform that’s clunky and convoluted. Of course, you’ll need to avoid the opposite extreme as well. Spreading out functions or services too thin will frustrate the user to no end.
Mobile user experiences are highly susceptible to being too crowded or clunky. Don’t make the same mistake this ancient Microsoft Word version did.
It seems counterintuitive that isolating these functions improves experience, but isolation isn’t really what’s happening—not if your suite’s apps can interface and communicate with each other smoothly.
The best constellations function so seamlessly that the user doesn’t even notice they’re switching between applications. Take Google’s suite of apps. From Gmail to Calendar to Drive to Maps—all of these platforms mesh to create a more holistic experience for the user.
If deployment to market is a factor, the app constellation strategy may be for you. It’s easier to quickly build a specialized app, test, and launch than it is to construct a single, potentially bloated application.
With a one-size-fits-all application, it’s likely not all of its desired functions are going to be available in the first release. And as more features are added to subsequent releases, the hired app development company will need to conduct regression testing.
In regression tests, QA engineers verify all aspects that previously worked in the application remain functional, to ensure any amends or additions made to the platform don’t impair other features. These tests become much more streamlined with a specialized app in a constellation, meaning you can deploy your platform in the App Store or Google Play faster.
Lastly, the multi-app strategy’s greatest edge is arguably the immersive, engaging brand it cultivates. Let’s return to the Google example. By offering a variety of disparate services, all of which seamlessly integrate with each other, I’m almost always working within Google’s app constellation.
This not only furthers the connection between Google and their existing user base, but also provides more entry points for new users. The first Google app I downloaded was Gmail, but since that initial download I’ve added Calendar, Drive, and Home to my iPhone as well.
Using a multi-app strategy is also prudent for companies that want to expand their brand across different markets. American Express offers mobile applications for travel, dining, and even business management, hoping to curate an image that’s more “lifestyle partner” than credit card company.
Though app constellations offer a significant selection of advantages, the strategy isn’t without its drawbacks. The most alarming of these: data suggests some app constellations may not actually be working.
Here’s download data from Carousel, a photo and video management platform in the Dropbox suite of applications. Dropbox discontinued Carousel March of last year, re-integrating their photo functionality into their main platform.
Carousel’s abysmal download data
Facebook’s Paper, a lighter version of the social media platform designed for article consumption, met a similar fate. Despite the praise it received from design junkies and app critics, Facebook shuttered the platform in July of 2016.
Facebook Paper download history
In fact, most of the applications in Facebook’s constellation have been failures, with the significant exception of Facebook Messenger. A wildly popular platform, the Messenger app has even passed the original Facebook app in the download leaderboards.
The data implies that the multi-app strategy isn’t working, at least in terms of download count. But I’d argue it’s not enough to dismiss app constellations as a whole. For every Dropbox Carousel or Facebook Paper, there’s Google’s suite of apps, or Evernote’s successful constellation.
Instead, I think the data shows multi-app is a difficult strategy to execute correctly, and a nuanced one—the app constellation method may only be feasible for certain companies.
A multi-app strategy is an excellent option if your company offers a core resource that can be easily parsed across multiple apps, or if you provide a variety of services that revolve around a central process or workflow.
App constellations allow for faster release cycles and user experiences tailored to the consumer, and is an excellent approach for established companies that are rolling out a new digital service. They ultimately offer a better user experience, but they might not be for every company.
If you’re still on the fence, a quality UX design company can offer business analysis services to help you decide on the right mobile strategy for your application. It’s a decision imperative to the overall success of your business—don’t leave it up to chance.