Are Multiple Apps Bad?

With Facebook’s official switch to requiring Messenger for Facebook messages, there has been plenty of backlash. Some of the arguments against it, though, are specious. Many certainly have merit. But not everyone has a problem with it. For example, me.

First, A Myth and Plenty of Truths

A few commenters have made the statement that “more apps mean more battery used”. That is a blanket statement that is not completely true. Sure, on Android it might (since Android apps keep running in the background). But iOS apps moved into the background use essentially zero battery. The only exceptions? Audio playback and navigation apps. Otherwise, Messenger is stuck using Apple Push Notification Services (APNs) to notify users of new messages when their app is in the background. This, strictly speaking, uses no additional battery power.

But extra apps certainly do use more storage, and running apps (both iOS and Android) use more memory. The incremental cost of including the features in a single app is smaller than moving each one into its own app. An app includes some basic overhead, no matter how small your features are.

Then there is the cost of the real estate on the screen. More apps means more app icons. You either have more screens, or you have to bury them in app groups of some kind. Either way, an icon “costs” when it takes up space on the screen (I wrote about this in a previous post here). Adding another app to a user’s environment isn’t free, and it isn’t even cheap. That real estate is precious, expensive and scarce, and app makers need to respect that.

But, It Isn’t All Bad

For some people, splitting the apps up is a good thing. Just how many this helps is unknown. For me, I know I like the idea of a lighter-weight Facebook messaging app that I can just leave running. This is mainly because I don’t use Facebook on my iPhone or iPad. I use Messenger regularly. It and Skype form the core of my IM activity with various people. My time on Facebook proper is limited to a brief check each morning. Otherwise, Facebook (outside of Messenger) is unused.

But that is just me. I know there are others than practically live in Facebook on their phones. It isn’t just vanity, either. For some, this is vital business activity. Communication is their business. It is not just exchanging messages with individuals, but communicating with larger communities. For them, splitting the app makes things arguably worse, and not better.

Not All Services Created Equal

Splitting apps for the sake of splitting apps makes no sense. Doing it because of a “fashion trend” is just plain silly. But sometimes splitting can make sense, sometimes it does not. Twitter is an example where splitting it makes no sense. In fact, for some social media, it makes sense to have a unified platform (like Hootsuite) to be able to manage all of them as a single, logical stream. That isn’t splitting, that is unification. Splitting Foursquare (something I don’t use, but have some understanding of) didn’t seem to make sense either, but it depends on how people use it.

If your users tend to use a subset of your app on one platform, but the app in its entirety in another, then splitting might make sense. But that comes from analytics, and understanding how your app is used. If you “think” they use it one way or the other, then you really don’t know. You are guessing, and you had better guess correctly. So, if most people only use one feature on smartphones, but everything on tablets, then splitting the smartphone app but keeping the tablet unified might make sense. But it only makes sense if you know this for a fact, and not as a guess.

There are no easy answers. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution here. We’ll have to wait and see if splitting Facebook made sense or not, and whether that applies to other apps as well. We can all guess, but the company with the hard data will have a better sense of what might work and what won’t. I sure hope Facebook had hard data on this one.