Lifehacker post shows how consumers are becoming aware of app developer 'tricks'

Shane Schick

If they're trying to be really proactive and competitive, app developers have probably been getting used to terms like lifetime value of a user, customer engagement and smart push. On the other hand, I doubt many are spending a lot of time thinking about the "cognitive overhead" they have to overcome.

In a recent story by Lifehacker, however, Herbert Lui refers to cognitive overhead as that time between the moment an app user gets a notification or an alert, and the time it takes for them to get back into one of their favorite apps. The best apps and mobile games, he argues, are designed to reduce that overhead as much as possible. It's just one of the examples he cites about the ways developers use "tricks" to keep people hooked on their smartphones.

"The solution isn't to throw apps out the window. They're extremely convenient and they bring great benefit and joy to our lives," Lui writes. "They're also only going to [become] more and more useful. You'd probably rather live in a world with apps than one without them. Much like how you'd be cautious around substances like alcohol, which can be potentially addictive, you can enjoy it in healthy, controlled, amounts."

The Lifehacker piece offers a number of strategies to ensure apps are enjoyed in moderation. These include turning push notifications off, identifying the emotional triggers that make you open an app and rewarding yourself for ignoring an app rather than giving into the rewards of enjoying some time spent on a game. All of these are perfectly reasonable, and I'm sure many consumers will keep them in mind. 

What made this article worth noting was the counter-balance it offered to the increasing marketing noise aimed at helping developers boost the time their users spend in-app. Of course, developers know they have to focus primarily on the value of the overall experience they give consumers, but without always saying so, I've noticed in discussions with vendors in this space that an attempt to "trick" or manipulate usage patterns is a definite goal behind some of the product and service designs. 

One thing the Lifehacker piece ignores is the increased use of mobile app analytics to provide a more one-to-one experience for app users rather than the broad brush that most of them take today. If this technology becomes more sophisticated and matures as expected, it could mean that some consumers will feel more "hooked" than ever before. 

While they explore mobile app analytics strategies, I'd suggest developers do a little hack of their own: write your own story about how you would explain the way user data is being tracked, studied and applied to an average person. If it doesn't sound right--if it sounds like more trickery--it probably means you're not approaching it properly, and there may be yet more work to do. But then, that's life.--Shane