According to Comscore, 7 out of 10 smartphone users keep their most used apps on their home screen. Increasingly it is becoming more common for users to create folders of apps to stick them in. The primary reason for users moving the app to the home screen is because the app is used often.  The implication of this is a ‘crowding out’ of apps, and that we may only use a few apps as a result. The principle of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ may cause havoc for app developers. Is there reason to click the panic button?

If you have been in the app business for a while, you know that all the action is on the first few pages for top 25 lists of the app stores.  It may therefore be quite scary if the fight you just had on the app store to get discovered and downloaded now transfers to the handset and continues on an ongoing basis:

Source: Comscore

But is the way of the icon the way to go?

While the research clearly shows placement matters, the icon should be just that – an icon.  The true meaning of the word refers to something that has become a widely-known symbol. It implies it has been in existence for a while, and thus represents something – something that has been built up over time and gotten known.  The irony is that icons on the phone screen has become synonymous with something that is now in danger of being forgotten.  But here is why we think soon it will not matter.

Icons are old school

It will probably not be a shocker to say we are not fanboys. When we started the app business, phones had stamp sized screens, and the apps – in J2ME – had to be made in gazillion versions to fit all the handsets. But the 3G market for apps was quite good. But as everyone knows, the app market became tremendous with the release of the iPhone.  So, what annoys us the most about the iPhone still to this day?  The fact that the iPhone has an insanely archaic and boring layout of icons.  Seriously, with the amazing things you can do with Android, especially in forked versions, why on earth would you stick to this design to represent what is on the phone?  The answer is simply legacy. Apple has trained us to think this is how it should be – but it is not.

Technology dictates that the end of the square is near

There are several reasons we are due for a change in how we access apps and services on the phone:

  • Voice commands and assistants like Cortana, Google Now, Siri and others are increasingly getting smarter and better. It is now very easy to launch an app with your voice.
  • AI and smarts in your phone should easily be able to predict what you need when. For instance, is it 730am and breakfast time? I am probably reading some news. 8pm and Sunday? Probably looking for some household stuff from Costco for the week (well, that could be me only, but you get the point).
  • AR and sensors built into the phone could mean you would be operating your phone in true ‘Minority Report’ style with hand gestures etc.  Heck, even biometrics could signal an app need (getting tired? Fire up the coffee app…).

The phone is already equipped with features that allow you to ensure that what you need is available when you need it. Furthermore, notifications and other features should save you from having to flip through icons to know what you want.

For developers, you will still need to spend to get discovered. However, once you are discovered your focus should be on user onboarding and engagement, and then figure out how to be top of mind for the user when they should be using your app. There is no reason to obsess about home screen placement or annoying push notifications. Instead, have notifications that are useful and relevant, and integrate with other means such as emails, reminders in other apps, or perhaps even ads reminding your app is available (and ensure the ad is shown at the right time). This involves thinking ‘beyond your app’ to engage the user.

Of course, your icon design should still be kick-ass. But the icon should and shall die in relevance.



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