If you’re anything like me, you probably have a few apps on your phone that you barely use because they’re painfully slow. It doesn’t help that our attention span is getting ever more fragmented with per session use of apps hovering in the “few minutes” range. This literally translates to an expectation that apps need to load in a “few seconds.”
Several years of work have gone into learning how to best optimize our websites for speed and performance. In the mobile space, however, comparably we are just learning how to walk. And while a lot of developers’ attention has focused on how to create “The Next Killer App” like Vine or Candy Crush Saga, problems with an app’s performance can—and will—kill an app otherwise destined for stardom.
Poor Performance Significantly Impacts Ratings
In an analysis of critical 1-star reviews among top free applications in the Apple App Store, Appurify found that more than half of user complaints were tied to performance issues. Fifteen percent of those were specifically about speed—apps were slow, took a long time to load or loads failed entirely.
Interestingly there are several 2 to 3.5-star rated apps in the top 400 Free Apps chart. When we looked at loading times for those apps, we found that on average higher rated ones loaded faster than poorly rated apps as can been seen in the figure below.
Further, a high frequency of 1-star reviews heavily impacts the ratings for apps otherwise destined to reach a coveted 4+ star status.
- Fox Now (3 total stars, 30 percent are 1-star reviews)
”Slowed my phone down DRASTICALLY”, 1-star by Kellybee28, July 13, 2013
- Netflix (3.5 total stars, 22.3 percent are 1-star reviews)
“Stuck on loading screen”, 1-star by Lookez, July 10, 2013
- Starbucks (2.5 total stars, 45.8 percent are 1-star reviews)
“Server never responds”, 1-star by Dave Pistacchio, May 15, 2013
Poor Ratings Diminish Revenue and Marketing Impact
Ratings of apps have a direct effect on both ranking and review activity in the Apple App Store. Being highly ranked and generating thousands of reviews a day directly translates to downloads and revenues. The key here is to keep the critical reviews in check. As can be seen in the figure above, a crucial aspect of getting better reviews is by loading faster. Ultimately these reviews can be just as important (or more) than any marketing efforts.
According to a recent Business Insider article, a free app requires 70,000 downloads to break into the top 10 rank and 23,000 downloads to break into the top 50. For top grossing apps, the corresponding thresholds (in earnings per month) are $47,000 and $12,000 respectively for top 10 and top 50 rankings. Needless to say there is a strong chain reaction where discoverability fuels downloads and earnings, further fueling more discovery.
Test and Optimize Apps Pre-Release
If you are an app publisher you are typically in a hurry to launch, but the importance of thorough pre-launch testing cannot be overstated. Speed is one part of this puzzle—simply improving an app’s load time by a hair, for instance, might be enough to bring that 3.5 star to a 4 star or higher. Stability and performance issues also play a big part in ensuring post-launch success.
So where does this leave you? To properly address concerns about speed and performance the first step is to understand where your bottlenecks are. Such bottlenecks may include front-end rendering issues, internal app mechanics, server-side and client-side issues. Taking it one step further you should test server-side calls under varying network conditions and use powerful run-time debugging tools. Testing platforms like Appurify can seamlessly work with continuous build integration platforms and perform automated tests on real devices for native, hybrid and HTML5 applications. Actionable insights from such tests can provide unique opportunities for improving speed. For example, real-time packet captures (PCAP) enable us to look at event-specific activity in the corresponding HAR files, allowing for immediate recognition of pain points. With PageSpeed integrated into Appurify’s reporting a score report as shown below can directly reveal the reason why your app is taking too long to load:
In summary, establishing an automated testing platform early on can address speed, performance and stability concerns and substantially alter the success of your app from a revenue and marketing angle. Speed matters. It strongly affects ratings, rankings and discovery. Unleash the full potential of your app by embracing automated testing as part of your development process.
About the Author
Krishna Ramamurthi, Ph.D. is a data scientist at Appurify, a provider of mobile debugging, automated testing and optimization solutions.