5 Observations on Mobile App Unbundling

First, let’s get on the same page.

Zynga has an astounding 55 apps, but these aren’t instances of app unbundlings. ZombieSmash and Duck Dynasty Slots were never meant to be played within the same app.

On the other hand, Facebook Messenger was recently unbundled from Facebook. Messenger used to simply be a tab on Facebook, one piece of the larger experience. Now, to use Messenger a user actually has to have an entirely new app. It’s as if a small feature got promoted to be a big product.

Mobile app unbundling occurs when a feature or concept that was previously a small piece of a larger app is spun off on it’s own with the intention of creating a better product experience for both the original app and the new stand-alone app.

2- Users don’t like it, but most are going along with it

Let’s examine two recent very public, very messy app unbundlings.

Facebook / Facebook Messenger

Currently, 84% of the ratings for Facebook Messenger are 1-star.

It’s gotten so bad that Facebook just penned a defensive blog post titled “Get The Facts About Messenger.”

Yet, Facebook Messenger is the #1 free app in the App Store in most countries right now.

Swarm / foursquare

Both Swarm and foursquare had a rough summer of reviews.


Review breakdown via SensorTower


Review breakdown via SensorTower

Notice jumps in negative reviews for both apps in late July and early August as the switch was forced upon users.

Yet, Swarm was propelled to #9 in the U.S. App Store when foursquare fully removed check-ins from the original app.

Consumers resist change. They won’t enjoy their familiar app being broken up.

The transition period will be a mess. Customer support will work overtime, angry Tweets and blog posts will be written by early diehard users. Some users will never come back.

But, most of the crowd will actually go along with the changes. Faces grimaced, they will download new standalone apps.

3- A lot of apps are already doing it

A quick scan of the App Store reveals unbundled apps all over the place. It seems more and more publishers are doing it. In the consumer space:

LinkedIn — 6 distinct apps

Facebook — 6 distinct apps

Instagram — 3 distinct apps

It’s even reached the retail sector; Target has 7 distinct apps!

4- More apps will split soon

Which apps will unbundle next?

How about Snapchat? Their “Our Story” feature currently gets 75%+ of the activity in their app, yet it’s hidden away.

Maybe Uber? They’ve filtered with new service verticals that could benefit from their own unique settings, and the current lineup of choices is too big to fit onto a single screen:

Uber’s app doesn’t even fit on the phone anymore!

Perhaps Twitter? They now have 3 unique timeline views to swipe thru (Home, Discover, and Activity) with a 4th — “Nearby” being tested.

Or Pinterest? They’ve begun to promote new features like Search and Locations more and more, and tried to accommodate complex content like recipes and instructions within their current framework with varying degrees of success.

5 — When it needs to happen

“That’s the main driver for our decision to unbundle these two experiences into two separate apps: to make the experience better for both use cases.” — foursquare on the split

Two main situations have seemed to emerge:

When a single app has features which are so diverse from one another in a way that it actually becomes burdensome

This seems to be the case with the foursquare/Swarm split.

foursquare was unfortunately stuck with a reputation of being all about check-ins and stickers. Features like discovery and city exploration were suffering as a result. To show that it was ready to grow up, it kicked those out, and went all-in on discovery around food and drink categories.

When a single app has a feature that shows potential to blossom into a successful stand-alone product if given more space

This seems to be the case with the Facebook / Facebook Messenger split.

The option to message someone within Facebook wasn’t really hurting anyone. It was just kind of there, hidden away. But, Facebook saw an opportunity to pull out a small feature, Messenger, and give it lots of attention on its own. A stand-alone Messenger app can stand side-by-side emerging messaging apps like TapTalk and SnapChat in ways that a previously hidden feature never could do.

We’re still early in the mobile app unbundling movement on mobile. It’s certainly more than a trend, but it remains to be seen what will happen in the long run.

We’ll all find out soon enough. After we download the new app that just got unbundled, that is.

I'm building Bamboo, a user acquisition agency focused on helping great mobile products grow.
E-Mail Me: sauterdj@gmail.com
Follow me on Twitter: @DannySauter
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