Constructing an effective multiple version support strategy is one of the most crucial keys to success for a native app indie-developer.
With every new device launch and every new operating system update, comes a brand new set of features and functions. Each release broadens the potential capabilities for all apps, making the possibilities seem endless.
Those new capabilities affect all 3 important players in your environment: your app, your competition and your users.
With other developers constantly integrating new features into their apps in pursuit of capturing users’ excitement and affection, users are quickly adjusting to new developments and those are instantly becoming the new standard.
Amid the commotion, you may find yourself trying to maintain your current user-base and app reputation, whilst racing to keep up with all the new additions so you won’t be left behind.
In this article, I’ll outline the main challenges, dilemmas and recommendations for an effective and profitable multi-version support strategy to keep your app at the top of its game.
The ongoing dilemma of supporting multiple app versions
The more versions you support, the larger your potential audience is. It’s that simple. The mobile world moves quickly and to succeed, you need to allocate your resources as best you can. And when I say resources, I mean time and money.
Like you, the great majority of app developers hold full-time jobs. They only have time to pursue personal projects in their free time – ie. nights and weekends. The time-factor becomes one of the greatest restrictions on our production process.
I am sure you, like every other experienced developer, are familiar with that overwhelming feeling you get when you need to make a strategic decision. Your plan was to deploy the new version by next week, but you are slowly realizing that you‘re going to either have to drop a few components or postpone the release.
This never-ending dilemma is amplified even more when it comes to core component development. Almost every developer I know (unless he/she has a HUGE user base) prefers to invest time on developing new components, rather than on fixing bugs and various adaptations of older versions. Why? Because it’s fascinating and everyone else is doing it – and it’s really scary to be the only app out there that still uses 2014 UI…
Regular maintenance and support for multiple versions by themselves aren’t a walk in the park, either. Yes, we all know it can be a lot of work to have multiple versions, but what about the costs?
Servers cost money. Supporting multiple code bases cost money. Proper QA for different combinations of device-app-version cost money. And don’t forget you still have to pay the app store, depending on your membership plan.
Basically, we can sum it up with one simple rule: the more you support, the more you spend.
Great metrics to consider for a winning strategy
Depending on your own app’s revenue-generating model (premium only, download fees, in-app purchases, etc.) the first step is to figure out the average value of each user.
For instance, if you only charge one dollar per initial download, then each user is worth an average of $1 (up to a certain amount of users, but I won’t go into economic variances, such as sunk costs and marginal costs here).
If you offer a freemium version and a premium version for $3, but only 10% of all users upgrade to premium, then each user is worth an average of $0.3 (3/10).
Once you’ve calculated your users’ average value, it is time to set up your own guidelines and limitations as to what to support and when.
Your guidelines can be based on these 3 simple metrics:
A. Version cost – How much it costs you to support each version on every device. You should take every cost that is related to a specific version/device into consideration (note: universal membership plans such as app-store fees shouldn’t be included).
B. Version revenue – The potential income from each supported audience. To simplify this metric, look at the number of users of the different devices and operating systems and multiply it by the average user value you’ve calculated.
C. Potential Growth – user-based growth that will evolve from new developments and new version releases. This one is a bit tricky. To calculate it, you should estimate the number of new users you will attract. My advice is to look at the whole market and come up with three estimates: optimistic (if all goes PERFECT = 100%), realistic (60%) and pessimistic (30%).
Establish your guidelines and construct your strategy
Your guidelines are a key factor in structuring your support strategy and should be used as blunt decision rules to turn to in case of any uncertainty.
It’s very easy nowadays to get caught up in fantasies and trends and to lose touch with the actual numbers and what I like to call “market feedback.”
To define your own guidelines, I recommend using these very simple principles:
Compare version cost to version revenue to figure out if you should keep supporting an existing version/device.
If the costs are equal to or overshadow the potential income – you should drop that version/device.
The easy way to do this is to calculate the minimum number of users that will justify supporting each version/device, and let go of the versions that don’t meet the criteria.
If you want to figure out whether you should spend the next month adapting your app to the new iPhone 8, multiply the potential growth by the average user value and compare it to the potential income from other possible improvements.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), that if the expected costs of those adaptations are larger than the potential income – you should be patient and hold back, for now.
Like I said before, the resources needed to support multiple versions are much more than just funds, and you’ll need to adopt the same cost-benefit analysis to decide what to spend your time on.
Stay focused, stick to the plan, prevail
Remember that your aim is to retain an active-user-base that is as large as possible, preferably across various platforms and versions. The right mix will enable flexibility in case of any external update (such as operating system or new device launch) or a strong competitor.
Easier said than done, I know.
The good news is that with a proper strategic plan and efficient time-management skills you’ll be able to stay on top, avoid getting carried away with trendy fantasies and consistently earn revenue from your app.