A Software Challenge: Why Users Uninstall Apps

By Wendy Boswell on November 24, 2013, 11:02 PM

Getting an app developed is just the first step in a long journey. One of the more daunting problems facing developers is user engagement; basically, how to get users to install apps and keep them installed. It’s difficult to keep users satisfied beyond that initial app install, and it can be even more difficult to get meaningful exposure in the first place against larger companies that offer a lot of apps that tend to get space on those Top Ten lists.

Editor’s Note:
This is a guest post by Wendy Boswell, technical blogger/writer at Intel. She's also editor for About Web Search, part of the New York Times Company

Different types of uninstalls

A simple uninstall is not necessarily a bad thing, neither does it necessarily indicate that there’s a problem. There’s a catch-22 situation here; is it better to have an app that is completely ignored by the majority of users, or is it better to have an app that is apparently so non-user-friendly that it’s uninstalled immediately?

Apps that don’t offer anything helpful or unique tend to be the ones that are uninstalled the most frequently. People cycle through apps incredibly quickly to find the one that best fits their needs. Engagement and retention are two very different things, as we can see from this measurement from Flurry Analytics, who used a sample of apps used more than 1.7 billion times each week:

One of the easiest ways to increase app loyalty is to look at the data. Developers can take advantage of client-side interaction analytics to figure out what is driving their customer base behavior, and improve their apps in specific ways that speak directly to what their users are looking for. Developers who keep an ear to the ground as far as what their customers are really looking for are going to reap the benefits. There are also several tools out there (both free and paid) that monitor what users are searching for as far when looking for apps at various app stores and via the Web.

Factors that influence app uninstalls

How to reduce the uninstall rate is a question that most developers are actively seeking the answer to. A lot of apps have a naturally limited lifecycle; i.e., apps that are centered around a movie release or an app that tracks a pregnancy, or an app that celebrates a holiday. In addition, apps with limited functionality, for example, “lite” games that only go so far, are uninstalled once the user has mastered all the levels. That isn’t always a bad thing. If the app is engaging enough, developers can get the user to download the next app in their stable of apps, creating a continuous engagement cycle.

There’s really not a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of “why are users uninstalling my app?” But there do seem to be a few common factors that can contribute to this happening:

Lengthy forms: Asking a user who has just installed an app to fill out a lengthy, convoluted form contributes to a poor user experience, especially on a mobile device.

Asking for ratings: Apps that are intrusively pushing for good ratings tend to be uninstalled; these need to be timed quite precisely in order to avoid user burnout.

Collecting unnecessary data: If an app is collecting personal data without a clear demonstrable need – or without consent – the app is more likely to be uninstalled. There’s no need to ask for sensitive data that the app does not need to function properly:

“If apps could announce their information use practices as you enter a relationship with them and when you enter a relationship with me, then at least you could be better informed. This awareness enables you to decide whether you really do want to use the app. Imagine:

  • As you enter a contact into your smartphone, you would be informed as to how all the apps on your smartphone would use that information.
  • When you add a new app to your Facebook profile, it showed you how the app was going to use your social graph data – an impact assessment.

What this gets back to is a desire for control. An app that tries to be as upstanding as you are would provide better visibility and choice with respect to the use of information about your relationships. Apps that are bad actors will not provide such choice and likely go to great lengths to hide their actual use of the information.”  -  Gartner.com, “I Like You but I Hate Your Apps”

User friendliness: If the app takes more than a few seconds to learn how to use, the majority of users are going to uninstall it.

Is it free? Users are more likely to uninstall an app if they didn’t pay for it, especially if it doesn’t have a clear perceived use. Even if the app only cost .99, users are less likely to uninstall simply because that’s .99 that they will be basically throwing away.  There’s a fine balance to this, since free apps can bring in money from in-app purchases.

Buggy: If an app is full of glitches, eats up too much memory, or crashes all the time, it tends to be uninstalled. Users are rarely forgiving of these kinds of issues.  Being sure to repeatedly test an app on multiple devices and versions of the same operating system can greatly limit the number of issues users encounter. Users are becoming increasingly more sophisticated as far as what they are looking for in their apps:

“A study, carried out online by uSamp, found that freezing (76%), crashing (71%) and slow responsiveness (59%) were the primary bugbears when it came to app problems, with heavy battery usage (55%) and too many ads (53%) also mentioned. Users stressed that performance mattered the most on banking apps (74%) and maps (63%), with the latter no doubt much to the chagrin of Apple, which has had some difficulty with its own maps software on iOS 6.

For almost every respondent (96%) said that they would write a bad review on an under-par app, while 44% said that they would delete the app immediately. Another 38% said that they would delete the app if it froze for more than 30 seconds with 32% and 21% respectively indicating that they would moan about the app to their friends or colleagues in person or over Facebook and Twitter. A considerable 18% would delete an app immediately if it froze for just five seconds, but 27% said that they would persist with the app if they paid for it. Those experiencing bad apps urged developers to fix the problem (89%) first and foremost, followed by offering easy refunds (65%) and a customer service number (49%).”  -  Business Insider, “Customers Hate Freezing Apps”

Unnecessary notifications: Annoying users is defeating the purpose of an app. Sending unnecessary push notifications that merely create an improper noise to signal ratio are annoying. They need to be time effectively so that they are not intrusive or too pushy.

A good user experience is at the core of any good app, and user-friendly apps are the most successful. Judging from the sheer amount of downloads from various app stores (numbering in the billions just from Apple alone); people are obviously very willing to try new apps. However, it behooves developers to take a long-view picture beyond just that initial download and figure out how they can focus on retaining those customers, making them into die-hard fans who will continue to use the app for the long haul. Studying the analytics of app downloads (usually provided within your app store dashboard) will help developers analyze the demographic profiles of the people who are interested in their apps, making for a more targeted marketing campaign and also aiding in future updates of the apps themselves.

Application display building development image and Motley Apps Pattern background from Shutterstock.




User Comments: 20

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3 people like this | davislane1 davislane1 said:

TL;DR version of this article: When apps don't do what they're (advertised) supposed to do, users uninstall them.

hitech0101 said:

I installed a lot of free apps only to realize I needed to pay to actually use it.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Seldom do I trawl the app store for apps. I install what is recommended by people I know.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Windows 7 has dvd playback, Iso burn, and excellent CD rip in a variety of qualities. Other than that, I install one of a variety of Adobe imaging products I own in every build. Beyond that, I install DVDFab, (which they're screwed up to try and force you to purchase their other products), DVD Shrink, ImgBurn, 7Zip. Beyond that, a couple of free security programs.

In my XP machines, (that's right I said, XP" , I'll stuff in VideoLAN for DVD playback.

(I use stand alone DVD & Blu-Ray players & a TV for movies. So, the DVD capabiliy in my computers is only used for "formats that standalone players won't handle (*)".

If I want to know the weather, I'll turn on my TV, if I want to listen to music, I'll fire up the home audio system.

I'm not interested in any social media nonsense, P2P, or gaming.

So, you've got an uphill battle to try and get me install a new app, let alone worry yourself about whether I'll keep it.

(*) Read that as "erotic art".

And just so as y'all know I'm gearing up for Christmas....,"Bah Humbug....!

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Adden-dumb: "M$ Works" was an app that did most of what a private individual needed in the way of personal utilities, word processing, and some others. It used to cost about thirty bucks. M$ saw fit to discontinue it and try to sell the full version of "M$ Office" instead. When the only machine it came pre-installed on craps out, (it's pushing 10 years old), I'll make do with open office or similar. I have no intention of permitting M$ to bully me into buying the full version of office.

Most apps being pushed into people's faces are what I call , "crapplications". BS that gives you the weather while you're standing out in it waiting for a bus on your smart phone. BS that tells you the score of every game being played in the country. And BS that hooks you into every local TV stations miasma of relentless advertising. No thanks, I''ll pass on 99+ % of new apps.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

When an app that is not currently running reminds me that I haven't used it in a while...it gets deleted.

2 people like this | Lurker101 said:

In my XP machines, (that's right I said, XP" , I'll stuff in VideoLAN for DVD playback.

You say that like having an XP machine is a bad thing. I also have an XP machine and the bare minimum of apps on it. Foobar, SPlayer, VLC, Irfanview, Notepad++ and few good* games.

Apps that pretend to be free but then demand money, apps that demand an internet connection for no real reason and apps that simply don't do what they say they do can go procreate in isolation.

*By good I mean old**.

**By old I mean actually good.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

...[ ]....

Apps that pretend to be free but then demand money, apps that demand an internet connection for no real reason and apps that simply don't do what they say they do can go procreate in isolation.

*By good I mean old**.

**By old I mean actually good.

"Procreate in isolation"! Is that anything like "performing an aeronautical intercourse into a rotating pastry"?

One thing though, I phrased the whole "XP" thing the way that I did, to let the Windows 8 children know there would be a fight to the death if they opposed it.

I love my XP machines, I tolerate my one Vista laptop, and revel in my Windows 7 boxes.....

And I am soooo, not looking for a way to have M$ inflict Windows 8 point whatever on me.

pmcardle said:

...[ ]....

One thing though, I phrased the whole "XP" thing the way that I did, to let the Windows 8 children know there would be a fight to the death if they opposed it.

What's wrong with Windows 8? XP was good in it's day but it's so outdated. Vista was even better with enough horsepower behind it. I've been buying every new M$ OS since I started building PCs back in the mid 90s. W7 for desktops blows the doors off XP on a desktop only environment. W8 works very well against multiple platforms and it's getting better. Some "children" just can't handle change!

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I've been buying every new M$ OS since I started building PCs back in the mid 90s. W7 for desktops blows the doors off XP on a desktop only environment. W8 works very well against multiple platforms and it's getting better. Some "children" just can't handle change!
Go stand buy your window, I'm sure you'll hear my applause....or not.

pmcardle said:

I've been buying every new M$ OS since I started building PCs back in the mid 90s. W7 for desktops blows the doors off XP on a desktop only environment. W8 works very well against multiple platforms and it's getting better. Some "children" just can't handle change!
Go stand buy your window, I'm sure you'll hear my applause....or not.

I heard it...THANKS!

Guest said:

captaincranky, replacing the "s" with "$" in Microsoft is really getting old...sigh

Emexrulsier said:

Main reason I uninstall apps is when I find they running in the background for no reason at all. Take the mc'donalds app for example. I installed this to easily find where a maccy d was if I was in an unknown area it it works fine but there is no reason for this app to run constantly using up cpu cycles, consuming precious memory using and data allowance. Because of this I uninstalled it.

1 person liked this | jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

" People cycle through apps incredibly quickly to find the one that best fits their needs."

This describes me perfectly -- it's all *need/function* based.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

" People cycle through apps incredibly quickly to find the one that best fits their needs."

This describes me perfectly -- it's all *need/function* based.

And when we find one that works for us, we probably stay loyal to that app.

DAOWAce DAOWAce said:

Where's the "If the UI is overhauled in an update" section?

I stopped using a multitude of both programs and websites because of pointless UI overhauls. If I become familiar with something, I don't want it to change. Microsoft alienated me from 7 because of the POINTLESS UI changes despite the fact that the OS is Vista SP3 with some minor core changes, so I've been suffering from lack of support all this time to the point where I'm just going to be forced over to 7 whether I like it or not in the near future. I've done as much UI modding as I've found possible in a VM, but it's just still not enough.

From my experiences, most people don't seem to mind these changes and/or workaround them, but if you've used something for YEARS and it abruptly changes, you will have a problem no matter who you are. My parents for example refuse to use something if it changes, as they lose the familiarity of what they're using and can't be bothered to re-learn everything.

TL R; Stop changing the UI between versions.

Phr3d said:

M$ is getting old.. <sigh>

talk to me in 20 years of software non-development..

but, ok.. point taken, M$ is no longer acceptable, to the point of ignoring a post as though I said.. ahhh, nm. M$ is un-PC. k

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

captaincranky, replacing the "s" with "$" in Microsoft is really getting old...sigh
Yet somehow, the fact that it pisses you off, only makes me want to do it more....:p

Did you have anything to add to the topic, or did you just ring in for that? 'cause to tell the truth, that's way more obnoxious than spelling Microsoft like this >>>....M$....<<<!

Why don't ya curl up with a good book instead? http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=M$

....[ ]....From my experiences, most people don't seem to mind these changes and/or workaround them, but if you've used something for YEARS and it abruptly changes, you will have a problem no matter who you are. My parents for example refuse to use something if it changes, as they lose the familiarity of what they're using and can't be bothered to re-learn everything.

TL R; Stop changing the UI between versions.

Ya know, at a certain point in time, we all eventually become just like our parents. Judging by the context of your post, it seems to have happened to you already......:oops:

DAOWAce DAOWAce said:

Ya know, at a certain point in time, we all eventually become just like our parents. Judging by the context of your post, it seems to have happened to you already......:oops:

I've been this way for as long as I can remember, even back to Windows 98. My parents have nothing to do with it, and I'm far from the personality of either of them.

Also, I should change that to say my father, since my mother can get used to change, unlike him.

Edit: Or editing could be disabled on older posts for some asinine reason.

nestorius said:

Actually there are other free packages that are very good. WordPad and NotePad, included with the M$ OS. Then there is Open Office which is available for free and will do most anything that M$ Office will do. There are always options!

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