In Phase I of mobile commerce, we focused mostly on moving existing eCommerce to mobile; specifically the purchasing of inventory & digital services. This is all well & good, but it’s later that things start to get really interesting.

In Phase II (where I like to describe us as being now) we’re increasingly spending on our mobile devices in an additive way; not just moving commerce, but creating use cases and spending habits that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. In short; we’re changing user behavior.

This is of-course fascinating, has been relatively well covered & is not what I want to talk about here. What I want to talk about today is how this shift changes the way in which we think about the performance of our apps & how we measure them.

At a high level, obviously more revenue is still better. It’s important to remember though, that we don’t model, understand or improve our businesses with high level aggregate output, but rather the trends, patterns and nuances that lead to that behavior. This brings us to the first major shift in how we think about app performance..

Time-in-app is turned on it’s head {.p1}

Time-in-app used to be one of the 3-5 top metrics measured by mobile companies, only behind 30-day moving-window active users (MAU), cost of user acquisition (CAC) & user life-time value (LTV). Particularly because of the trend in more traditional businesses of time-in-app being a strong indicator for LTV.

Time-in-app predicting LTV only holds true when user actions within your app are somewhat independent; i.e. performing an action in the app, doesn’t reduce the likelihood of a user performing another action. If the app modifies the real world around us, this stops being true.

Apps are increasingly becoming thin wrappers around use cases, not weighty shells around brands. Click To Tweet

Uber is a great example..

Ordering an Uber, makes it almost impossibly unlikely that I will have an immediate need for another Uber. The requirement to use the app represented something that I needed to happen in the real world, which is now happening. Therefore, time-in-app for Uber, is actually synonymous in many ways with time-spent in the `Checkout Flow` for more traditional apps. A number which you want to be low, not high.

A new breed of lighter, more focused apps

We talked about unbundling a lot in 2014 & it will continue to happen. Apps are increasingly becoming thin wrappers around use cases, not weighty shells around brands. With this, each thin wrapper becomes more well-honed to getting a user in, out & completing their use-case in as short a period of time as possible. Time-in-app is now lower-is-better (assuming conversion). The new battle becomes, how do you remain front of mind next time they need you?

These apps won’t even pretend to give you things to do when you’re not using the core service (gizmo-filled accounts pages, lists of your friends uses of the app etc..) but will focus on two things:

  • Minimizing time-in-app before your use-case is completed
  • Ensuring that anywhere your use-case can be driven from, your brand is present

The second bullet is fairly new to us as app-builders because we’re so used to operating in a silo. Increasingly, this isn’t the case & as our lives become more of a chain of app experiences, the demand for our services will be generated by interactions within another app.

Our lives are a chain of app experiences, each one driving the need for the next. Click To Tweet

Previously, developers would work hard to increase the time the average user would spend in their app by minutes & even seconds. These developers are now increasingly departing from this user-trapping behavior and are becoming more open to (the obvious truth of) users leaving their app when they’re done with their use-case. The old mantra of “if you love them, let them go” could now applies to users too & hopefully they will come back stronger than ever before.

Is this really true for everyone?

Well, no. This doesn’t apply to everyone. A lot of businesses are still selling inventory, displaying content & serving ads etc.. For these folks, time-in-app remains a strong predictor of user value & will be maximized. What’s exciting to see, is that there’s an increasing number of businesses who will want to minimize time-in-app. These are businesses driving real-world actions; getting a ride, a hotel, a massage, delivery & paying for things. Because of this shift in the value of time-in-app, they can behave in a more open, cooperative way.