media app icons flying around globe on tablet computer

By Scott R. Schreiman

App fatigue hits us all. We download another calendaring app that will keep us on track where our other three calendar apps failed.  But then it starts beeping and dinging at us all day. Then it starts to eat all our data. We let this continue even though we figured out within a week of downloading it that this app wasn’t really adding value to our lives.

Then there are the apps we download because they’re the new “it” app. But is it really making our lives better or improving how we conduct business? As my kids would say, “Meh.” Probably not.

Over time, we return only to apps that have proven their worth.  Rates of downloading and usage reflect this shifting attitude towards apps. Recent research from Nomura shows that the top 15 app publishers experienced an average drop in downloads of 20%. Research from Nielsen finds that the average number of apps we use barely ticked upwards, while the overall time we spend using apps continues to increase. Less than a quarter of us will even open a new app more than once.

No one wants to add still more apps to do more stuff. We want to be happy with the apps we have — so they need to work right and have the functionality we need.

Interestingly, the same Nielsen research found that people aged 25-49 use the most number of apps. I speculate this is due to the number of enterprise business apps this age group downloads, or has to download because of the constant roundabout of new tools their companies bring in. Communication and productivity apps are closely tied in third and fourth place as the most-used categories of apps, behind search/social and entertainment apps.

Still — people are tired of having to learn a new business app every other week. It brings down overall efficiency in our work lives because we’re constantly having to learn a new app. Instead of making our lives more efficient, having to work in a ton of apps really just keeps us “on call” all day with perpetual interruptions. It’s exhausting.

We just want the right business apps that truly make our lives and work easier, not more hectic. Unfortunately, a lot of enterprise apps show the hallmarks of creeping app fatigue:

  • They put marketing before performance. These apps focus on getting buzz from the right people. They work hard at becoming the “must have” appendage. Their positioning outpaces the value they really add to our business lives.
  • Closely related are the apps that are content to be just a pretty face. These are designs that improve the user experience for a common task. They’re just sharp looking. They’re the shiny new ball that gets a lot of attention, but get quickly dropped.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are the apps that try to do too much. Filled with all the bells and whistles functionality that doesn’t fill a true need you have. They have three different ways to get the same thing done. Or they come packed with services that distract instead of providing value. There’s just too much going on, and they get too complicated.

Developing Enterprise Apps that Stand Out

Adding to the challenges of overcoming users’ app fatigue, enterprise app development continues to grow. But we’re entering a new phase of enterprise mobile apps. It’s not enough to throw an app as an add-on to a desktop tool. If an enterprise app wants to avoid falling into the heap of low-value apps, it needs to avoid the trap of just looking sleek, or overloading and distracting users with unneeded functionality, and constant notifications.

Now, users are demanding an app return real value if it wants their attention. That means starting with a mobile perspective that centers on what people will actually do on their phones. Current usage shows that chat and messaging apps are now more popular than social network apps. People want to communicate faster and more efficiently.

Not many are going to create or edit work product from their phones. They’ll review it, make comments, send messages or chat with teammates to facilitate their work. That’s why the apps that can connect communications to underlying work product are the productivity apps. They provide the right functionality in the right context for the platform, and nothing more.

App fatigue isn’t code for “apps are over”. Far from it. What’s over is people being easily impressed by an app. They’re now as basic to our personal and work lives as the phone itself. The apps that overcome this fatigue are those that genuinely contribute to the quality of our lives and work.

Scott Schreiman is the founder and CEO of, an online collaboration solution. Follow him at @scottschreiman.