Big Brands Fail At Apps As Much As Startups Do

Less than 1% of consumer mobile apps are financially successful, according to this report by Gartner. Which means that most apps fail or are struggling to monetize.

Failure is imminent, they say in the startup world. But, did you know that big businesses fail too at new products? You aren’t alone as a startup entrepreneur trying to make a mark; even the successful companies sail the same boat when it comes to launching new products.

The fundamentals remain the same for them – build a minimum viable product, validate its concept, attain product/market fit. The only difference between an existing successful business and a newbie entrepreneur launching a product is that, should the big brand get a favorable response from the customers, they are better equipped to garner distribution.

But until then, they’re in the same boat as you are. Let’s take a look at some of the colossal failures that came out of the fold of successful companies.

#1 Twitter #Music

Last year in March, Twitter announced through a tweet that it was pulling out its Twitter #Music app from App Store and the app will entirely shut down on April 18, 2014, a year since the day it launched.

What went wrong with the app?

Twitter #Music was a music discovery app that lacked the license to play full songs. So, instead of keeping the user engaged within the app, it directed the listeners to switch apps (Spotify or Rdio) to listen to full tracks.

Another problem was lack of variety in music recommendations. It served two extreme sets of recommendations – one based on what was trending on Twitter and second based on an algorithm that seeks hot new bands favoured by music critics but not yet widely known. What about other kinds of music people are interested in?

Pop artists are among the most followed and influential users of the service (seven of the top 10 tweeters are musicians), so it made sense why the service would want to leverage that for engagement. But music fans already know how to find new tracks on Twitter itself. So, no additional app was required.

#2 iOS Maps

In September, 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook posted a letter on the company’s website admitting the failure of iOS Maps which was launched just two weeks back. Tim also suggested users to use better mapping alternatives like Google Maps or Nokia Maps.

iOS Maps replaced Google Maps which had been the default mapping application on all Apple products. All Apple users were now forced to use the new mapping system when they updated their OS to iOS 6 or bought the iPhone 5.

Improper labelling of places, unmapped roads, and distorted views led to a poor experience.

The experience of iOS Maps was not even close to Google Maps in terms of street view and transit directions. Users began to point out a number of landmarks that had been misplaced, incorrectly named or were lost entirely.

It was named one of the Top 10 technology ‘fails’ of 2012 by CNN in December, 2012. People refused to upgrade to iOS 6 until they could get Google Maps back. The mapping service was so poorly received that a Tumblr blog was devoted to document Apple’s mapping failures.

#3 Evernote Hello 

Evernote has put up a notice on its official website, which reads, “As of February 7, 2015, Evernote discontinued support for Evernote Hello and won’t be making any further updates to the app.”

Evernote Hello, an app for keeping track of people you’ve met with a replacement for business cards, was launched in December, 2011.

The 1.0 version of Hello app had some major flaws. The feature to import existing contacts into Hello app was missing. Moreover, the app had no provision to sync the updated information of iOS contacts into the Evernote Hello database. To add to the list, Evernote desktop clients were not able to edit Hello notes.

The final nail in the coffin was a feature that required the users to save the picture of the person they met. It was very awkward for people at any social encounter to take a picture of the person they were meeting for the first time. Plus the app encouraged users to ask others to input their contact information into the phone. It became more awkward for people to hand over their phone to someone else.

#4 Facebook’s Paper

Launched in February 2014, Facebook’s standalone feed-reading app called Paper was largely a clone of Facebook’s regular app feature, News Feed.

At the launch, experts rated Paper as the best app from Facebook. But within three months from launch, the app fell from the 2nd place to below 1,500th place in download ranks in app store. For an application powered by Facebook, it was a clear disappointment.

What went wrong?

Paper works by sucking in stories your friends share on their News Feed. You can also pull in curated stories by topic that come from some of Facebook’s publishing partners and content others post publicly.

So that means there’s very little reason for someone to use Paper. The app just shows you the same content you would read in your Facebook app’s news feed anyway.

Paper tried to be both – a news aggregator and a social feed. By sailing in two boats at thes same time, it doesn’t do either well.

Facebook uses multi-app strategy, which means when Facebook launches a standalone app, it removes that feature from the main Facebook app, so that users have to download a separate app to use that particular feature – like Facebook Messenger. This was not the case with Paper. News Feed is a core feature of the Facebook app, and removing that feature would mean killing the main Facebook app.

#5 Foursquare

In 2009, Foursquare was launched as a check-in app, which allowed users to collect badges by checking in at places.

Foursquare debuted during the time when check-ins were unique. Users, particularly when on holiday, would literally check in ten times a day. But the process became monotonous soon and users got bored.

The social side of the service didn’t take off well. To compete for the badges, the users needed to have their friends using the app. This restricted them.

Another reason for its fast downfall – rather than automatically sending users tips as they moved from place to place, the app required them to ‘check in’ every time they wanted information about their location. This was a time-consuming process that rewarded sitting still rather than exploring and discovering new experiences.

Competition also hampered the growth of this app. The New-York-based start-up faced competition from many — including the mighty Facebook when it introduced the local check-in feature in its existing app.

After a radical overhaul in July 2014, Foursquare unbundled its app into two separate products: Swarm and Foursquare. Swarm was a brand new app for checking-in and existing Foursquare app was converted into a restaurant review and directory listing app.

What’s the moral of the story you ask? Simply, don’t fret failures. Even biggies fail and it’s alright. Eventually, you will learn to walk; and in the end, that’s all that matters.

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Nidhi Shah

Nidhi is the head of content marketing at Arkenea, a mobile app consultancy building experience rich apps for startups and businesses.