Mobile Evolution: The Importance of Standalone Apps


Today’s guest post comes to us from Geoff Cook, co-founder and CEO of MeetMe, a leading social network for meeting new people in the US and the public market leader for social discovery (NYSE MKT: MEET). MeetMe is building a portfolio of mobile social apps and recently launched two: Charm and Unsaid. Cook will also be a featured speaker at this year’s Inside Mobile Apps conference, joining a panel on Leveraging App Discovery. 

In the beginning, a developer created a web site, then she created a mobile app based on that web site. Today, she creates a portfolio of mobile apps without regard to the web site. The industry has learned the bigness of the small-screen opportunity and evolved to capture it.

The social app landscape on mobile is marked by single-use-case standalone apps – apps like Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, and Tinder. Indeed, the largest social developers recognize that standalone app innovation must occur alongside improvements to the core product – Facebook with Instagram and Messenger; IAC with Tinder; and Twitter with Vine.

Mobile users are accustomed to applications that are simple – that do one thing extremely well on a small screen that is always available. Bloating the user experience with feature after feature rollout, no matter how innovative that feature may be, is not an option on mobile devices.

On mobile, novelty has replaced viral channel innovation as a path to growth. Rather than spending all the energy tweaking address book import tools and Facebook sharing funnels – energy that may have paid off dramatically in 2008 with Zynga and the Requests channels, or even in 2012 with Socialcam and Open Graph – today that energy is best spent on the mobile product itself, making the experience so good and with such a unique hook that it will spread over lunch tables and watercoolers around the world.

Snapchat, with its self-destructing photo hook, is the poster child for growth by novelty. You don’t need to appreciate the philosophy of ephemeral communication in a tech culture shifting from performance to spontaneity. No, all you need to know is that self-destructing messages are cool; they were cool for Mission Impossible and Maxwell Smart, and they’re cool today. And they happened to have changed the entire social messaging space. The product hook was viral.

Tinder is another. In this case, the hook was how well it works. It’s funny how the level of attractiveness is so high on Tinder despite its going mainstream among a population known for obesity – it’s almost as if it’s that way by design. The simplicity of a UI popularized for the web by Hotornot and a product that simply works well created a juggernaut that continues to roll today from one country to the next. Standalone apps, with their single-minded purity, have the viral edge over apps trying to do too much.

Geoff Cook, MeetMe co-founder and CEO

The ability to attract new audiences is yet another reason why a product innovation often works better as a standalone app than as a new feature of an existing app. Imagine an app for Meeting New People that has a messaging system. Imagine that in the course of improving on that app a concept arose for a unique Messenger different from popular offerings like Kik, Wechat, and Google Hangouts that would dramatically improve the messaging capability in the core app. It would be far too limiting to take a novel, differentiated messaging concept and apply it to just one set of users interested in just one use case: meeting new people. The innovation would demand it be given a chance to blossom as a standalone app, and also launch as an enhancement to the core app itself.