Designing a mobile touchpoint: the single-purpose app

May 5th, 2014 by Azur Digital

When planning a new app, the current trend is to keep it simple and focus on its effectiveness to meet business objectives

Multi-purpose apps are progressively being abandoned as connected-consumers increasingly favour micro-interactions with specialised apps. One of the most eloquent illustration of this trend is Facebook’s “unbundling strategy”. The social media giant is moving away from multi-purpose apps (which they call “the portal syndrome”) and is now acquiring or developing a network of specialised apps, with very specific sets of functionalities: Paper, Instagram, Whatsapp to name a few.

On mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences. – Mark Zuckerberg

From a multichannel perspective, an app is a touchpoint sitting in your customer interaction ecosystem. In the case of Facebook, all its apps are touchpoints of the Social Network – which is the shared business asset – and each app aims at fulfilling a very specific social need in this ecosystem.

Apps use frequency has decreased, due to the abundance of choice

This calls for apps to be better defined and designed, especially in the light of their cost of development.

To ensure recurring and sustained use of an app, it is best to cater for a simple promise and deliver it in all expected (and less expected) situations. Because of User Experience, development and budgetary constraints, increasing the breadth of an app’s scope reduces its depth and in turn, the number of scenarios and contexts it caters for. This ultimately affects users’ perception of added-value of the overall app, often translating into a less frequent use of the app. A specialised app therefore tends to secure better ROI, provided clear business objectives have been defined for it.

Fnac, a leading French entertainment retail chain, has chosen to multiply its mobile app offerings in order to dedicate a given app to each specific use. The retailer developed an ecosystem of 7 apps which deliver different experiences based on customers’ needs and intentions: Loyalty, M-commerce, Ticketing, Marketplace, eBooks, Music on Demand and Members magazine. Each app has different form factor targets, as well as unique and tailored capabilities. For example the ticketing app has Spotify or Deezer artists list integration. Knowing the kind of artists customers are listening to, combined to location, allows to push appropriate concert ticket promotions.

Fnac developed an array of specialised apps for their different audiences. From left to right: Marketplace, Kobo by Fnac, Fnac (m-commerce), Tick&Live, Jukebox.

Improving customer reach and relationship

Simplicity further allows brands to be found easily where customers would expect them. This is quite important as it can drastically influence the number of downloads for an app, and in turn affect its market uptake – in good or in bad. For example, a loan calculator app offered by a bank will have greater search visibility precisely in a place where the user is looking for a tool to calculate a loan.

By targeting a specific audience with a given app (rather than addressing all consumers), the data gathered by the app will help better understand target segments and, as a result, better monetize your mobile channel. Gartner predicts that by 2017, 94.5% of downloads will be for free apps. Companies will therefore increasingly look at enhancing data gathering and developing customer relationship to achieve their business objectives.

Faster app roll-out and easier evolution as it meets success

Defining a simple-purpose app can be a daunting task as it forces companies to make clear business choices. But the benefit is better invested money: apps are not cheap to build and businesses need to maximize their investments.

With a single-purpose app, UX designers and developers can concentrate on delivering better a well defined promise, with often much less dependencies on other services. Moreover, a single-purpose app is much easier to build and test. The app can later grow its value proposition as is become popular and has a substantial and loyal user base.


Mark Zuckerberg says the future of Facebook is mobile –
Fnac: des applications mobiles en cascade –
Making apps pay gets harder –
The mobile single-purpose app strategy – Taylor Davidson