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The Curse Of One-Star Apps

At Mobile World Congress, you can stand out for the wrong reasons, just like a dud mobile app in an app store. Consider these steps in creating a praise-worthy business app.

It's easy to get lost in the crowd at an event like Mobile World Congress, especially if you're one of the 1,500 companies exhibiting across eight halls. So I guess it's no surprise that exhibitors try every trick in the book to grab your attention -- from free gifts and giveaways to tempting prize draws and raffles. 

For the 200-plus exhibitors in the App Planet pavilion, standing out is a big challenge, since the mobile masses have high expectations for the wow factor, be it in mobile wallets, shopping, gaming, or anything you can build an app around.

[Mobile health apps and wearables at MWC are cool, but privacy issues lie in wait. Read Are Wearables More Fragile Than Fun?]

Much like the attention-seeking exhibitors at MWC, you want your app to stand out in the crowd -- but not for the wrong reasons.

For example, if your app sucks the life out of lithium batteries and has poor device compatibility and terrible performance, you can bet it will stick out. Failing to address these issues carries a hefty price tag – especially the dreaded one-star rating on any app marketplace.

Love them or hate them, the app ratings and ranking system is the key indicator of an app's performance. And while there'll always be a vocal group of individuals who'll go to great lengths to pick out holes in an app just for the fun of it, deploying a badly thought-out app too quickly will have dire consequences -- always.

One example from late last year was the release of a mobile payment app, which averaged just one-and-a-half stars (on Google Play) after 1,000-plus users submitted negative ratings and comments. Complaints ranged from device compatibility (with Near Field Communication services), to the processes involved in accessing new SIM cards.

Testing every possible scenario for app usage is a tough task for any development organization. Just because your app works beautifully across a 4G/LTE network doesn't mean it's going to behave the same way across 3G, 2G, and yes, even EDGE networks.

Similarly, that beautiful mobile user interface your designers have built might look great, but how will it impact that feature that ticks people off the most: battery life. Add to this GPS, location services, or augmented reality and what you thought was a great new app might just be the thing that sucks all the stars out of your businesses reputation.

From a technology perspective, there are capabilities emerging that help resource-constrained organizations to simulate app usage in a variety of usage scenarios.

This is obviously important because unlike traditional enterprise development, mobile involves testing apps across infrastructures beyond the control of the enterprise. Cloud-based client-side tools and performance management techniques are also emerging that allow developer shops to quickly determine the cause of crashes and also deliver the critical analytics that teams need to continuously make app fixes and enhancements.

But beyond the technology challenges, there are organizational considerations. In terms of managing compressed mobile app lifecycles, strong collaboration across development and operations teams is a no brainer. But it's just as critical to keep business stakeholders in the conversation during all aspects of the app development process, keeping them abreast of how the app will be designed and what the functionality tradeoffs will be.

This process involves business, marketing, design, development, and operations working together to ask simple but often overlooked questions that will the determine success -- or failure -- of the finished app. For example:

What are your target markets and demographics? If they're new students lost on a college campus, location and contextual reality would be great services. But what if you're an emergency service providing bushfire updates to rural communities where something as simple as a reliable and up-to-date short message service is critical? As always, understanding context in the app world is key.

How will your new app help engage customers? The best apps are task-based, providing micro-functions that help customers act in an exact moment of time -- so whether that's quickly checking in airport baggage or hailing a taxi on a cold day, simplicity and usability will be equally important as any whiz-bang new feature.

Are your existing business processes engineered for success? If you think that mobile apps can seamlessly work with existing business processes, think again. There'll be factors ranging from architecture refresh and security to call-center coordination and support. Ignore these at your peril because they're the most difficult to resolve once your app is out in the wild.

The mobile app world is not for the faint of heart and even the most spirited efforts won't guarantee you that five-star review. And even if it does, that's only the start -- because maintaining super-great ratings in mobile is just as difficult as getting them in the first place.

Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.