App families, app constellations and why you need a dozen apps to succeed
Have you been amused, confused, or just p***** off by the number of games that King, the maker of Candy Crush Saga has been releasing? From Pet Rescue Saga to Papa Pear Saga to Farm Heroes Saga and what not. Yet, one can understand that the game maker is under pressure to keep producing and converting existing players to new games so that people do not become bored and migrate to some other company (who still plays Angry Birds? And who still plays Farmville, or will even admit that they do?)
But did you know that the strategy that applies for a gaming company, is equally valid for other mobile app developers? in his blog, venture capitalist Fred Wilson dedicated an entire post to explaining the concept of app constellations. Wilson points out that as the app market matures, big companies like Yahoo, Google and Dropbox are simply acquiring the best apps in the market place to attain leadership.
For examples, you probably use multiple apps from Google. Across all these apps you have a common log in. This makes it easier for ad targeting. It makes it easier to offer a fluid user experience through linking of different apps - for example the integration of Maps into Google Now, Gmail with Drive and more. This in turn creates stickiness for your app constellation.
It also makes it easier for you to discover newer apps from the company - and that is increasingly important in a crowded app store where app discovery is a huge challenge.
A recent post on The Next Web about Line, the popular Japanese messaging app revealed some interesting facts. Line has 450 million active users, but the company is not putting all its eggs in the messaging basket. It has an ecosystem of upto 63 apps, and 13 of them have passed the 10 million download mark, taking the cumulative downloads of the company past the 1 billion mark. In particular, Line Camera, which complements the core messaging app, has soared to 90 million downloads in the last one year. Line's app family is designed to satisfy a wide range of needs including content, games, tools and media - speaking of their ambition to be much more than a messaging company.
Of course, 63 apps may be an overkill. In the past year, we have seen Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer express the intent to prune down a similarly over sized app portfolio that her company held, to a more reasonable 12-15. Yet her aim is very clearly to integrate these 12-15 apps into a users' daily needs - to check weather, get news updates or share content, for example.
And increasingly we are seeing more companies diversify their app portfolio - with LinkedIn introducing a dedicated job search app, Facebook launching Slingshot, it's homegrown version of SnapChat and Twitter acquiring Vine.
The bottomline is clear. A single app strategy is no longer an appealing strategy for the big players. Putting all your eggs in one basket does not pay, as you are vulnerable to user fatigue, competition and are always challenged to offer freshness. App constellations make users more loyal to you as a company, increase your chances of trial, and recommendation to others, and raise the value of the ad exposure you can offer.
Loyalty to an app may be short-lived, but loyalty to an app family (and through that to a company), might just be the way ahead.