After consulting on the design and development of nearly 200 mobile apps, I’ve picked the top five features I think businesses and brands need to consider when building one. They’re not rocket science features, but careful consideration on how they are used will yield the best usage out of your mobile app.
Before we get into it, let’s address one important question first: Why build a mobile app? Hiring a team of mobile app developers can get pricey quick, so there should be a clear goal that benefits your brand or business and ultimately drives more traffic, users, engagement and, most importantly, revenue.
Once you’ve determined a clear path to the above, it’s essential to look at an app as a piece of software that runs on a mobile phone. View it as something uniquely positioned to leverage the capabilities of a device and vastly more powerful than competing software experiences such as a mobile-formatted website or advertisement.
With that, here are my top picks for must-have features in your next mobile app:
Deep Integration With Location-Based Services
In my opinion, this is the single most important feature to leverage in a mobile app. You basically have access to the mobile phone’s GPS and, therefore, the whereabouts of your end user at any point in time. There is a multitude of ways to use this information, such as by serving custom location-based content like coupons and promos for retail locations. You can also simplify the delivery of on-demand services or interact socially with users in close proximity. Whatever the use case is, having a tie-in with the device's location-based services will add incredible value to both you and your end user.
Optimizing An App For Offline Access
Not necessarily a feature, per se, but where websites fail, mobile apps can prevail. Since a mobile app is a discrete piece of software running on the client side, a lot can be performed in the User Interface without an internet connection. App developers should take advantage of this and design ways where a user can interact with the app -- without a connection -- as seamlessly as possible while queuing up requests and information. This way, the information or request can be submitted and received once a good internet connection is present.
For example, syncing a local database on the phone with one in the cloud allows a user to interact with the last known updated piece of content. And although it could be outdated by a few minutes, it is still a vastly improved experience than having no data at all, a connection error or a never-ending loading animation.
Touch ID, Face ID Or Equivalent
This is one of my favorite features that often gets overlooked. Not all devices can benefit from this hardware technology, but developers on iOS should certainly take advantage of it. Why? TouchID -- and, more recently, FaceID -- makes signing into an app quick and seamless and is relatively simple to execute from an app development perspective.
Any feature that simplifies usage goes a long way and is considered a big win. These days, there can be several dozen apps competing for your users' screen time, so whatever you can do to make their lives easier is going to having a lasting impact. This feature also has the benefit of making your app feel more current.
This almost seems like a given, but few app developers actually use this feature properly. In this case, fewer is better. There seems to be an ongoing sentiment in the industry that using every opportunity to get the attention of your user is going to maximize your usage and impressions. But this is often not the case for productivity apps. Most users will use your app because it is truly useful and solves an important need, whether for convenience or productivity. Your push notification should augment this and be utilized for important updates and alerts.
We live in a strange new world where social ranking amongst millennials trumps just about everything in the real world. So important is the perception we create for our audience that apps like Instagram have won the world over with something as simple as photo sharing.
While apps that solve a true business need or unlock real-world convenience are going to be the most successful in receiving consistent user engagement, having some element of gamification has become increasingly successful in driving app views. Something as simple as a daily reward, upvote or likes, or a point system based on app usage or feature interaction, can go a long way to engage your end user.
Since apps are persistent, recording a user's engagement in an app is going to be much easier than, say, on a website, where a login or some sort of “cookie” needs to be utilized in order to peg that session to a specific user. This can get complicated when a user uses multiple web-enabled devices, requiring tracking on each discrete device. Mobile apps do not suffer from these same complexities, and therefore it is my strong recommendation to maximize mobile's unique advantages.
Perhaps you thought I’d be revealing some industry trade secret when putting this list together, but alas, the features that are critically important are common-sense ones that are often overlooked or poorly executed. Many brands and startups alike are focused on the core features that are unique to their product and fail to address the freebies in the app development space.
There still appears to be a little bit of an aura around mobile apps, where companies feel that if they build it, users will automatically come. The app ecosystem is competitive, and users are increasingly picky when looking for an app they're willing to commit time to. It's paramount to incorporate your unique features while respecting your audience's time and giving them the maximum benefit from, and reasons to, use your app.