How to Build Mobile App Features that Keep People Coming Back

How to Build Mobile App Features that Keep People Coming Back
Mobile Apps How To Invest in Features that Keep Users Coming Back

In recent times with the growing popularity of mobile devices, mobile apps have become a battleground for customer attention.  This is no surprise given that research agency Flurry estimates that up to 84% of users’ time is spent using mobile apps when compared to the mobile web (ie. browsing websites on a phone).1

Businesses are still coming to terms with how to use mobile apps to reach customers.  And there’s been a great deal of debate whether a mobile app should do everything for customers, or only a subset of activities.  This debate can sometimes create a divide in organisations and teams.

Instead of debating whether mobile apps should do all things or some things, I recommend teams first ask the following questions:

  • what are the tasks that are most valuable to customers?
  • how could we fulfill these tasks exceptionally well?

When we look at it this way it refocuses us on the activities that create value for customers. This is the territory where memorable experiences are created.

To simplify value for mobile apps, we can consider value as a function of importance and frequency.


Some tasks are incredibly important to customers. For example, when it comes to mobile banking, checking account balance is incredibly important.

Other tasks occur frequently. For example, when using an email app, it’s a regular behaviour to check messages 10 to 20 times a day.

The sweet spot for mobile app design is the subset of user tasks that are both Important and Frequent. So before investing in any feature for a mobile app, it’s worth mapping where tasks fall relative to these two dimensions.

Mapping Tasks for Your Mobile App on a Value Matrix

By plotting user tasks on a matrix, we quickly get a bearing for whether tasks are high or low value. We can encourage teams to do this process for any digital experience, not just mobile, but the exercise is particularly relevant to mobile.  Here’s an example:

Mobile Apps How To InvestIn Features - Value Map

Once these tasks are mapped, we can group them according to these four zones:

Mobile Apps How To InvestInFeatures - Value Quadrants

#1. Mobile App ‘Value’ Zone (High Importance, High Frequency)

This is the high-octane zone for mobile app development. When we invest time and energy into creating mobile app features that fulfill these tasks, we have the very best chance to delight customers.

When I think of my favorite apps, features that come to mind in this category include: the ability to see my most recent notes in Evernote, the notifications feature in LinkedIn, the most recent content updates in Feedly, or the ability in Twitter to quickly send a Tweet.

Ideas in this zone are more likely to generate high value for customers (and potential returns for your business), even if they are more costly to build than less costly features placed in the three other quadrants.

#2. Mobile App ‘Consider’ Zone (High Importance, Low Frequency)

While these tasks are important to users, they will be completed infrequently.

Let’s take Netflix as an example. Netflix provides an incredibly easy process to suspend or cancel an account. However, the Netflix mobile app has an Account link that takes the user out of the mobile app and into the Netflix website to manage these tasks.

While the action to suspend or cancel an account is very important to users, this action is done infrequently, so Netflix has chosen not to build this into the mobile app.

The decision whether to build features in this zone will need to be carefully evaluated, based on how important the feature is to the customer experience.

#3. Mobile App ‘Enhance’ Zone (Low Importance, High Frequency)

Often there are relatively few tasks that fall into this zone.  In addition, tasks that occur with high frequency but are not important are often trivial in nature.

‘Refreshing’ a page is an example of task in this zone.

It used to be enough to navigate to a new page within a mobile app so that data would refresh within an app. However, this experience was replaced in some apps with a ‘swipe to refresh’ feature.

Twitter does this well, allowing the user to swipe to refresh their recent notifications. Prior experiences (such as navigating to a different page) were not particularly bothersome, but the swipe feature is a neat way to improve the experience.

#4. Mobile App ‘Reject or Backlog’ Zone (Low Importance, Low Frequency)

Tasks that are done infrequently and are of low importance will create little value for users if fulfilled within a mobile app.

Ideas in this area should be captured (as part of a your idea generation process) and allocated to a backlog, with a fairly low priority assigned to them.

If you do chose to service these ideas within the mobile app, they could be included deeper within the app than other, higher priority features.

An Exception – How Digital Experiences Can Change Customer Behaviour

So far we’ve spoken about how we should build features to respond to user tasks.  And we’ve also classified user tasks based on importance and frequency. But what happens when the features or experiences we create, completely change the way people do things?

Of course this does happen.

Let’s look at an example.  Sharing photos by email used to be a relatively ‘low frequency’ task.  Yet, whenever people shared photos it was usually an important way to connect with others.  So according to our value map, these interactions may have been allocated to the Consider zone (Low Frequency, High Importance).

Then along came Instagram.  Instagram made the process of sharing photos with social networks simpler and faster than ever before.  The result…the frequency of sharing photos exploded.  Suddenly it became incredibly important to share photos very frequently.  This shifted the task from the Consider to the Value zone.

Similarly, the process of adding effects to photos used to be hard work. Once again Instagram made the experience of adding filters to photos far simpler, and suddenly everyone was frequently adding filters to photos before the photos were shared.

So the way we create user experiences can have a dramatic impact on the way users behave and, in turn, the perceived value users place on certain tasks.

I hope you’ve found this article in contemplating what features you could build into your own mobile app.  If you are interested in mobile apps, you might like my other posts on why mobile apps hold a special place in customers’ hearts and how some of the world’s best companies have approached mobile apps.



I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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