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Social, messaging apps struggle with decision to 'bundle' or 'unbundle'

Matt Kapko | March 13, 2015
Some popular social media apps 'unbundle' features left and right, while other services stick to all-encompassing apps with a variety of functionality. Each strategy has its pros and cons, and each makes sense for different types — and different sizes — of companies.

Mehta says too many unrelated features in an app can create clutter and degrade the user experience, which in turn could affect the success of the software or service. Unbundling often results in a cleaner user interface for developers, who can then release updates and experiment without affecting key features, according to Mehta.

Seth Shafer, research analyst at SNL Kagan, thinks most app developers realize there is a point of diminishing returns to bundling up unrelated features, and few cross the line. "You don't see anyone trying to build a Swiss Army knife app that does 100 different completely unrelated tasks. Even the ones that are kind of bundling and adding on features, it's still closely related to either the core usage or the core demographic."

However, some social media and messaging apps do sometimes seem to straddle that line, according to Shafer.

Of course, the arguments for and against bundling don't mean a thing if users lash out against changes they don't like. Location-based social network Foursquare's decision to split into two apps had a negative impact on its popularity and left many users confused about why the company made them download a second app called Swarm, Mehta says. 

"Check-in was a core feature for Foursquare, and when Foursquare asked users to download a separate app for this feature, it faced a strong backlash," he says. "Unbundling of core functionality needs to be done with extreme caution, and the reasons must be clearly communicated with the user to minimize fallout."

Mobile, unbundling and the masses
Mobile is an important factor in the bundle-or-unbundle equation, and with smartphone penetration rates now above 75 percent in the United States, it brings these popular services to the masses.

"As that happens you get away from the tech-savvy, early-adopter crowd that is willing to poke around in apps, pull down menus and buried features," says Shafer. "When you move to a more general population, people just want one app that does one thing ... that may be a factor in some of the unbundling we're seeing."

Robert Armstrong, cofounder and CEO of Appstem, a design and development firm that creates apps for companies including Tesla Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Caesars Entertainment, says a variety of factors come into play, including on-going maintenance, support, updates, pressure to make money off an already strong user base and, of course, the resources and money that bundling or unbundling possible. 

"There is definitely such a thing as an app that does too much," Armstrong says. "When the user interface becomes cumbersome, hard to navigate, and confusing you're probably trying to do too much and may want to ... try to unbundle some features into a separate app. 

 

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