People love apps! (Just not necessarily yours...)

By Emily Case

Since native apps’ inception, many publishers have considered them the solution to their problems. Aron Pilhofer of Temple University quashed what he called “app-thusiasm” in his presentation, arguing that apps are only effective when publishers understand the “why” behind them. 


Pilhofer argued that standard news apps aren’t worth building for four main reasons.

1. News apps usually don’t create loyalty.
“There is a perception that there is something magical about the native app,” he said. “You can wave your magic wand [and] once you get someone into your native app, they’re with you forever.”

This idea doesn’t hold water considering that most app downloaders already are loyal users, he said. In addition, most downloaded apps are only used once.

2. News apps make up only 3% of users’ total app time.
While users spend a full 50% of time on mobile apps, getting users to actually download and spend time on apps is another matter entirely, he said. On average, users download zero apps per month and only use one to three apps. Furthermore, news and information apps aren’t in the top 150 most popular.

3. News apps don’t have much of an advantage when it comes to reader experience anymore.
A few years ago, apps could deliver a more immersive experience than desktop. The New York Times’ “Snow Fall” in 2013 proved that you don’t need an app for that. And web browsers are quickly catching up when it comes to innovative features. Companies like Google have been pushing for ways to make web browsers more similar to mobile apps.

4. News apps are a luxury item.
Developing apps is a much more specialized skill and takes more money to make. This is obvious when comparing developers’ salaries: front-end coders make about $50,000 per year, while iOS/Android developers make about $80,000 per year.

While news apps don’t make sense in many situations, he said, they work well if the publisher has a specific reason behind the app.

For example, Quartz has a news app that delivers news through text-messaging bots. This app works because it provides a unique experience and fits into the company’s larger AI-focused strategy.

Pilhofer commended Quartz for having a strategic web app that addresses the “why.”