What’s Behind the Mobile iOS Apps Unbundling Trend?

Posted by Davzo Inc

Posted in Design


The history of app unbundling on iOS can be traced to the early days of the iPhone, when Apple decided to unbundle or “split” the iOS Contact Manager feature into two distinct apps, Phone and Contacts, each with a clear and well-defined function. Afterwards, third-party app developers began to understand that separating one or more features of an application and turning it into a distinct app could be good for brands, and they, too, eagerly embraced iOS app unbundling.

Understanding App Unbundling

A good example of a brand taking advantage of app unbundling is Facebook. A few years ago, Facebook separated the core features of its iOS app into a social app retaining most of the website’s functions and a chatting app, creating in the process Facebook Messenger. Messenger focused entirely on Facebook’s chatting component, offering users a single-purpose messaging app that allowed them to chat with their friends in a more streamlined and more focused way.

Facebook Messenger is a success story of iOS app unbundling. It allowed users who did not need all of Facebook’s features but wanted to be able to chat with their friends to use a fast and convenient standalone chatting app. At the same time, Messenger’s split from the main app gave Facebook the opportunity to create a new mobile platform that integrated with various other third-party apps.

On the other hand, not all iOS app unbundling efforts have been crowned with success, leading many to question the value and ultimately the future of app unbundling. One of the best examples of an iOS app unbundling strategy that floundered was Carousel, a photo sharing app developed by the popular cloud-based storage service Dropbox as an extension of its photo sharing features. Carousel started out as a promising platform with some intuitive and innovative sharing features, but despite the initial enthusiasm with which it was received, mobile users did not embrace it as expected, continuing to use instead the main Dropbox app for image sharing. In this case, the features that Carousel introduced did not turn out to be powerful enough on their own to create a useful and engaging standalone app.

Benefits of App Unbundling

Looking at Facebook’s Messenger, the benefits of app unbundling become obvious. Some features top apps have are powerful and useful enough to stand on their own and, unbundled into a new app, they have more space to grow and develop. This is especially true when a developer entrusts the unbundled app to the care of a separate development team who then continues to polish and improve it to an extent that would had not been possible had the unbundling not occurred.

Another benefit of unbundling is that it helps keep things simple for users. In an App Store crowded with alternatives, weighty apps with many features may discourage downloads. Popular apps such as Facebook come with plenty of features which, to some users, may make the app come across as heavy and unnecessarily complicated. If Facebook Messenger had remained a mere feature of the main Facebook app, it would have added to the latter’s file size, affected its performance, and required additional privileges as well. Unbundling can help developers address more of the needs users have, adding new features, fixing bugs, and introducing performance updates at a faster pace. For brands, app unbundling has obvious benefits: unbundled apps take up more space on users’ devices and can target specific segments of the main audience of the app more effectively.

Disadvantages of App Unbundling

While app unbundling continues to be widely used, some voice doubts about its usefulness, saying that it benefits developers rather than users. One of the arguments for this is that unbundled apps offer nothing new and that they take up home screen space for no good reason. App unbundling may be seen by users as an unnecessary cloning of features that would have worked just as well and been just as easy to access if they remained in the parent app. In terms of convenience, it is no doubt easier to use one app instead of two or three, unless of course the features they provide are sophisticated enough that their separation makes sense from a technical, not only commercial, point of view.

In terms of development, app unbundling increases costs, as additional development work has to be done for one or more features of the main app to be successfully packaged into an intuitive and engaging new app. The testing, troubleshooting, and bug hunting and fixing that an unbundled app requires further increases development costs, as does the marketing, App Store page management, and customer support that the new app invariably requires.

Should You Unbundle Your App Or Not?

There is no easy answer – it all depends on your audience, your app, and your aims. As Facebook Messenger proves, app unbundling can be a highly lucrative strategy for developing a powerful app feature and even turning it into a platform in its own right. On the other hand, Dropbox’s discontinued Carousel photo-sharing app raises concerns about the aims of unbundling.

Unbundling an app without a very good reason for doing so and without resources to invest in its development is certainly not a good idea, in spite of the tantalizing promises it may bring. While every brand wants to occupy more screen and storage space on their customers’ mobile devices and, by doing so, consolidate their mobile presence, not all types of apps or audiences seem to respond well to iOS app unbundling.

Ultimately, to decide whether to unbundle or not your app you have to understand what users want and need. While users probably won’t ever ask for unbundling themselves -- they have plenty of icons on their home screen already, don’t they? -- they are willing to accept it and even embrace it if it actually proves useful.

Before reaching a decision, you may want to consult a mobile iOS app development company. Drawing on their experience, they can guide your decision, helping you compare the benefits to the drawbacks and make an informed decision.

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