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Fabien-Pierre
Nicolas

VP, US Marketing

FABIEN-PIERRE
NICOLAS

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, VP US Marketing of SmartNews, discusses how the popular news app maximizes their reach through simplifying discovery.

How User Experience Spurs SmartNews’ Success

Comscore reported that 67% of consumers “rarely or never” install new apps. That’s more than 2 out of 3 users! What do you think about this? If you believe this is true and that there are sources of friction that impedes people from installing apps — where do you think this friction comes from?

As someone who has been part of the mobile market industry since 2005, I have a wide variety of experience with different market data. Comscore is more web-centric, so I would be curious what more mobile-first companies like App Annie, SensorTower, or AppTopia might say. Discounting that, the fact that a significant number of people rarely install new apps does not surprise me. In our own research, we find the first natural inclination of US consumers is to reproduce their habitual desktop behavior by opening their smartphone web browser and “Googling it”.

Any app needs to provide a strong unique added value to justify the trade-off against the user’s time with the friction of installing it, spending time trying it and potentially having to uninstall it. In the news space, web and mobile web reach is still significant in the US as well as other global markets but apps are still quickly gaining in share of time when consumers do experience the value provided by user-centric push notifications. A more diverse set of sources could compare to social channels and the possibility to customize the themes you are following instead of being “forced fed” the topics you should see.

One might consider Instant Apps, playable ads, being seen in Top Charts, and rich notifications all as examples of solutions that reduce friction. What solutions have you used that have been most effective in helping remove friction?

Several years ago at SmartNews, we did experiment with Instant Apps. But the low percentage of users selecting it as well as the low low conversion rate did not make enough of an impact for us. We tend to envision that the best solution for reducing friction is to keep your app client extremely light (under 10 MB) and move many functionalities server-side. It’s similar to what I was seeing succeed in the mobile game industry.

Lowering the friction between the user experience and usage is essential when it comes to our mission: providing everyone with quality information. If you have a big app client, you are creating an inherent inequality since only people with good connections and space on their devices will be able to use it. Not to mention that it increases the chances that your app will crash on some devices and ruin the user experience.

Therefore, keeping our client lean and, for Android, working with a partner like Digital Turbine to be already present on the user smartphone when they intend to connect with news is a great way to remove friction and live up to our mission.

Put on your futurist hat: what new innovations do you feel would be most helpful in removing friction or simplifying discovery?

The mobile user experience must migrate from a reactive one to a predictive experience. Apps should be able to automatically analyze whether the latest update is necessary. This is an enormous pain point for users that developers should look to solve. Beyond this, I think the curation from Apple App Store should take a page from Google Play and be a lot more user-centric and machine learning driven rather than controlled by human editors. This will help make the App Store a key center for quality app discovery with a positively reinforcing loop in the consumer’s mind.

As an example, as a dad of a 5-year old girl, I downloaded three excellent parenting apps in the last three years: a daycare app (HiMama), a babysitting app (Urbansitter) and a math learning app (Mathemagics). Recently, as I visited the Google Play Store to look for new games and news category trends, the Google Play Store took this opportunity to recommend to me an excellent self-development app called “In Love While Parenting” which is truly relevant to me as a parent. Improving these recommendation engines would greatly aid discovery for the end user.

Another research report recently found that the number of apps a person installs per quarter declines over time — by 40% after 10 years of using smartphones. What does this trend of declining app install rates by years of phone usage mean to app marketers?

Since some app verticals are maturing (eg: Social, Music or Communication), consumers might not have a need anymore beyond their entrenched brand loyalties. Additionally, Apple and Google have preloaded apps for those verticals onto their devices, thus decreasing the incentive to look for other app brands. But both App Annie in their State of Mobile 2020 and SensorTower Q4 2020 reports are still highlighting an actual increase year over year of downloads (+6% and 20% respectively) thanks to the pandemic and newer needs that emerged around it (eg: video streaming, video conferencing, workplace collaboration).

What matters the most overall for key players is the average time per user. Since the time we spend on smartphones is increasing strongly every year in double digits, smartphones are still the fastest growing platform by far with almost 4 billion users.

The overall dynamics of the ecosystem are changing as it matures, but when I think about the opportunity that exists, mobile is still the place to be. It’s the platform with the broadest and most accessible reach for the widest audience. From my perspective, that makes it the most democratic and data-driven technology platform available today.

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