The art & science of the App Lifecycle

This is the second post in a series on the mobile app ecosystem. Last week we discussed the platform wars and three legs of the mobile platform ecosystem. To continue the discussion tweet @jsenior or @teamratio.


During my time at Microsoft in the Apps Team, we helped many publishers build great experiences for Windows and Windows Phone. Throughout the process of explaining all the various features and scenarios available on the platform, I developed a framework to help structure and prioritize product planning. The framework begins with the level set that the usage of an app is cyclic, i.e. people use the app, they don’t use the app, they use the app and so on. The app’s design and use of native features dramatically impact the duration of each phase and also how quickly you can transition from one phase to another. Of course, the goal is to keep the user in the app for as long as possible, but once they do leave it, figuring out the way to get them back in again is critical. More often than not, the app also serves some business purpose, i.e. generating revenue. Developing an approach for this is as complex as it is important: there are numerous options for generating revenue from mobile apps and understanding each one and its advantages and disadvantages takes time.

Let’s recap. We have the following aspects so far; time spent in the app, time spent out of the app and making money. Let’s summarize these as:

  1. Time spent in the app => Engagement
  2. Time spent out the app is really just effort trying to get back to engagement, so we can call it => Re-engagement
  3. Making money => Monetization

As previously discussed, the three phases are part of a cycle. When I’m explaining them, I like to draw them like this:


Each phase is only as strong as its weakest peer, so breaking out the cycle in this way helps to focus attention on the cycle in equal parts. For example, a lack of strategy or approach to engagement will result in lack of monetization whilst a lack of re-engagement will impact negatively on engagement, and so the cycle goes on. For each phase we spend time exploring a strategy that will accrue to each phase and drive the cycle forward positively. This is an exhaustive exercise that considers upstream business models, business goals, technical infrastructure design as well as individual app features.

This is a sound model for building the app itself, but it is only the start of a more holistic approach. Over time, I added an approach to model go-to-market, specifically on acquiring users and also ways to mitigate uninstall (the death of the app). Adding these to the cycle looks like this:

lifecycle 2

Defining ways to drive user acquisition is the life blood of any app and – like monetization – the options for achieving installs are numerous, ranging from traditional advertising, pay-per-install (PPI) campaigns, re-targeting, store promotion optimization, SEO etc. Understanding how to dial these in and prioritize them is somewhat of an art form, especially when you take into consideration the impact of app store changes that can break many approaches and the myriad of service providers available that can help with different parts of the lifecycle. Explicitly defining an uninstall strategy helps focus on what the app publisher should not be doing i.e. things that will encourage users to uninstall the app. For example, annoying notifications or confusing navigation patterns.

The App Lifecycle framework was something I developed during my tenure at Microsoft but we’ve been successfully using it with clients at Ratio now on all platforms including iOS and Android. As well as a focused product approach, a solid app lifecycle strategy results in realistic, measurable goals for any app which helps our clients make data-driven decision making that drive positive business outcomes. We offer consulting for the App Lifecycle as either an integrated part of a larger project or even standalone, retrospectively on apps that have not been achieving the publisher’s business goals.


(Image courtesy of Ole Begemann)