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Microsoft, Facebook turn to standalone apps to combat user frustration

Brands such as Barnes & Noble, Microsoft, Facebook and Foursquare are creating a slew of standalone mobile applications targeting specific user groups with streamlined features to combat frustration with do-it-all apps. 

Facebook?s plans to roll out single-feature apps including Rooms and Groups for specific chat options and Microsoft?s revamping of Office Mobile are leading other brands to follow in their mobile footsteps. While consumers are wary of downloading too many apps that lead to cluttered smartphones, many others appreciate the development of user-friendly apps that offer single useful functions.

?Standalone apps allow technology giants like Facebook to experiment with new user experiences outside of their main apps with which consumers have become familiar,? said Shira Anderson, marketing manager at Como, New York. ?In some cases, the app may become a breakout success, but in others, learnings from how users interacted with the app can be applied to improve the main app. 

?In either case, both the app?s creator and the target audience can benefit.?

Splitting functions
Following the success of its standalone Messenger chat app, Facebook is now offering Rooms, an app allowing iOS users to post text, videos and messages on small message boards. The app essentially functions as a bite-sized version of Reddit, a public online forum, and lets users communicate with strangers or friends regarding any topic.

It was created to attract all demographics and consumers that do not have Facebook accounts, as a user?s Rooms identity is completely separate from accounts made on the social networking app. Meanwhile, Facebook?s Groups app is marketed specifically toward developers by enabling them to manage roles across different apps more efficiently.

?Facebook Messenger is an example of the kind of individual usage that warranted it being turned into a standalone app,? said Tim Hajirakar, director of business development at Atimi, Vancouver, Canada. ?The pitfall for brands will be if they create standalone apps for features that don?t have a lot of usage for, or are not really popular, which would be mean its most likely to be unsuccessful on its own.?

?A user of a banking app is not likely to want to have multiple apps to check balance, transfer money, or pay bills,? he said. ?If the function of the app is really dependent on few features it probably best not to separate them.?

Microsoft is also revamping its Office apps on Android and iOS devices, and is planning to test standalone versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word on Android tablets. The brand saw lukewarm responses to Office Mobile for iPhone in 2013, prompting it to unbundle the integrated suite and provide lightweight functions for each separate Office app.

?Simplicity is king when it comes to apps,? said Mark Ghermezian, CEO and co-founder of Appboy, New York. ?Many major brands are segmenting their multi-feature apps to ensure that each one does its primary function best.

?Groupon has split travel and hotel deals into its standalone app, Getaways. Skype?s video messaging is now the primary feature of its Qik app.?

Consumer response
With a host of competitors battling each other for maximum downloads, brands with apps must be economical in deciding whether to split app functions or offer a cohesive experience. Facebook waits until each of its apps reaches 100 million users before it begins to monetize the app.

 ?Brands might feel that they need to release one-function apps, but they have to be careful and not create a standalone app if it doesn?t add value for its users,? Mr. Hajirakar said. ?One key component of creating a standalone app is to evaluate whether or not the individual feature has enough user base to survive on its own.?

?However, if it creates an easier user experience to separate out some key features, and be able to quickly access that functionality without navigating another app, users will find that valuable.?

If a standalone app offers significant use to a consumer, it is much more likely to not only receive plenty of downloads, but more likely to experience higher usage. Microsoft, for example, is seeing positive response to its standalone Word and PowerPoint apps because smartphone screens are getting bigger, and users appreciate the ability to create slideshows or documents on their mobile devices.

?On one hand, consumers may appreciate the ability to access a certain feature quickly and easily without having to tap their way through the main app,? Como?s Ms. Anderson said. ?However, there?s always the chance that a standalone app that isn?t done well could result in a loss of confidence in the parent company.  

?When developing a standalone app, therefore, it?s important that the consumer experience be weighed against the expectation that consumers have of the parent company.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York