No One Wants Your App in 2016

I recently got coffee with a close friend who had left his wallet behind.

“Do you have your phone?” I asked.


“Then just Venmo me… no big deal.”

“No” was his response.


“I refuse to use Venmo.”


My intention isn’t to denounce this friend as a luddite. In fact, this person is typically an open-minded adopter of new technology when the benefits of adoption are apparent.

My friend’s reluctance doesn’t stem primarily from a distrust of mobile peer-to-peer payments, but preeminently from a fatigue that is setting over all of us caused by the number of tools, widgets, and gadgets to which our existences are increasingly indebted.

If you’ve used Venmo, you know that it is an elegantly simply application for exchanging money in thousands of potential scenarios. Every box is checked on the “Is This Product Great?” checklist. It is simply one of those “Why didn’t I think of this? / Where was this my whole life?” products.

Yet, despite Venmo’s lack of friction, my friend refused it out of opposition to “yet another app”.

His reaction isn’t that ludicrous or unpredictable. In 2004, game theorist Dr. Bhaskar Chakravorti stated very plainly in The New Rules for Bringing Innovations to Market that “markets, by their very nature, resist new ideas and products”.

This obvious, but often ignored, inherent feature of markets was true with physical products in 2004 before the age of the smartphone. This resistance is only exaggerated to its extreme in a digital consumer application marketplace that is well-beyond its saturation point. In other words, the idea market is closed and all sales are final.

This growing phenomenon, dashboard fatigue, most affects the middle majority of technology users.

The red area in this scientific depiction represents a “GTFO of here with your app” sentiment amongst consumers.

Those of us that tend to fall under the Innovators and Early Adopters areas underneath the Technology Adoption Life Cycle curve may be less prone to fatigue due to our innate fiendish appetite for “the next big thing”.

On the other side of the curve, Laggards (like my empty-nester parents who just signed up for Netflix last week) may not have reached their saturation point in terms of the number of apps they use on a daily basis.

The majority, however, checks their phone an average of 46 times per day (or as much as 74 times per day for those between the ages of 18–24) based on a recent report from Deloitte. 84% of this daily time, according to Nielsen, can be attributed to just five non-native apps that users have installed.

So what does this mean for your big app idea?

*It means that the market will no longer tolerate an app that is anything less than remarkable.*

This conclusion isn’t profound, but it is often missed, ignored, or repressed by new emerging products. There simply is no room in the collective attention span of the consumer market for apps that offer marginal improvements.

When someone downloads your app and adds your app’s icon to their ever-expanding mobile dashboard, they better instantly understand it and love it if they’re ever going to come back to it. If they don’t understand it and can’t intuit how to use your app, it’s a non-starter. If they don’t love it, they don’t come back. And if they don’t return, they won’t ever recruit others to join them.

Of course, there are no fewer than one thousand prerequisite criteria of a “love at first sight” product. But, if you’re aiming for anything less than the absolute best in 2016 then you’re dead in the water.

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