For people tuned into the tech world today, it’s hard not to know about the major success of several mobile apps, like Instagram and WhatsApp. However, while such success stories are inspiring, it’s possible to learn much more from the many apps that were created and complete tanked. Looking at failed apps can help companies determine what missteps were made and how they can avoid those same failures themselves. These following four app fails teach important lessons about creating an app that will succeed.
In early 2013, Hailo was poised to take over the taxi cab market in NYC. The on-demand taxi app had already succeeded in London, and the company planned to provide New Yorkers a way to order transportation via their smartphones. However, Hailo ended up failing, thanks to a flawed strategy.
Hailo was entering the market at the same time as Uber and wanted to dominate the lower end of the market, connecting riders with Yellow cabs. However, drivers of Yellow cabs failed to embrace Hailo for several reasons — including the fact that most NYC taxi drivers didn’t have smartphones (they didn’t need them because the city is a grid and easy to navigate) and because NYC cabs use outdated payment processors that had a hard time integrating with Hailo’s app. Hailo represents the failure of the company to gauge actual interest in the app (with drivers and riders), as well as a mis-assessment of their technological capabilities.
Color was one of the first photo-sharing apps that was ready to revolutionize social media. The company created a program that would merge users’ photo-streams together based on location. Color succeeded in securing $41 million in investments, offices, a website and a lot of buzz. However, once the app launched, it had many glitches. Users struggled with an interface that wasn’t intuitive. The also had a hard time figuring out how to master privacy settings, and they didn’t want to share all of their photos in public. The company tried to fix the app — then rebrand as a live broadcasting video app — but the damage had already been done. The lesson? Don’t launch a product until it is tested, ready and flawless; a glitchy app only has one chance to succeed before it’s abandoned.
Meerkat, a live-streaming video app that made a huge splash at 2015’s SXSW Interactive, recently had to pivot — an unexpected failure for an app that caught on quickly. Meerkat was undeniably the favorite app released at the technology expo, and celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Madonna started to use it to broadcast live. However, quickly after Meerkat caught on, Periscope, created by Twitter, appeared on the scene — and since the app was able to leverage Twitter’s user base, it left Meerkat behind. Ultimately, the failure of Meerkat was due to two things: Its UI just wasn’t as good as that of its competitors (it didn’t have the same resources), and, as a small indie app, it couldn’t keep up with the audience of Silicon Valley giants.
Like its name suggests, Secret was an app that allowed people to post anonymous bits of text. It was mostly used around Silicon Valley for sharing rumors and gossip. However, despite buzz, the app failed to catch on, and the company recently shuttered. Tech experts attribute the failure of Secret to several things: First, Secret had no ground rules. It allowed people to post and share hurtful material — and, anonymity without limits can breed cruelty. Next, the company wasn’t looking to grow. Secret was what it was, and its creators were not planning to expand or evolve the product. Finally, its market was simply too small. Secret appealed only to Silicon Valley insiders, and it didn’t build a social network of teens or adults like Yik-Yak and other anonymous posting sites.
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