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With mobile-first becoming the gold standard, staying ahead of the technology curve will be crucial to growing your app and keeping up with mobile users’ ever-evolving expectations for speed, security, and usability. There are plenty of ways to boost your mobile app, whether you’re adding features to make it more user friendly, increase conversions, bolster security, or streamlining how your customers make payments. Here, we look at ten things to try in your mobile app and how to make them work.

1. A/B Testing in Mobile Apps

Want to see how tweaks to your design, new CTAs, or new pages of your app will perform with users? A/B testing is the best way to get actual user feedback about updates or changes to your app without officially rolling out an entirely new version of your app—and it’s relatively easy to do with the right tools.

A/B testing involves dividing your users into two groups—group A sees your existing app, without changes, and group B sees your new, experimental version. The test can measure metrics like average session time, engagement, retention, or how many times users completed a goal.

You can run A/B testing during development so developers get a read on what’s working and what’s not, then deploy the winner of the two. Or, you can test changes on a live app to be sure you’re putting your most optimized foot forward. Running A/B testing on live apps is not without some technical integrations, which allow you to push out live changes to your app in real time without submissions through Google Play or the App Store.

To do this, you’ll want to integrate with a third-party service like

  • Optimizely
  • Apple TestFlight
  • Leanplum
  • Kissmetrics
  • Appsee
  • Apptimize
  • Taplytics

2. Send push notifications with dynamic, personalized information or rich content.

Users who opt-in to push notifications are known to have a high engagement rate, whether those notifications offer timely news, deals, or friends’ activity. Chances are, you’ve used them as a part of your app marketing. But there’s a way to double down on notifications that can make them much more effective.

We know that users are likely to opt out of receiving notifications if they become too frequent or irrelevant. This begs the question: How can notifications be the most relevant to a user? By tailoring them to each user and including rich content like photos or emojis.

You can go as simple as including data fields pulled from their profiles—name, gender, location, customer lifecycle, or basic event parameters—or they can be more complicated, using data-driven marketing, algorithms and recommendation engines to send hand-picked deals and suggestions based on behavioral data. This makes users feel more like they’re having a personalized conversation, and less like they’re on the receiving end of a standard, mass message blast to all customers.

These personalized notifications can occur either on a scheduled basis, or based on recent activity/behaviors like favoriting an item in a shop, a bank withdrawal, bookmarking an article, booking a flight, or arriving in a new city. Send reminders about appointments, gate change notifications, or updates about events they’re attending.

Rich push notifications significantly boost engagement, too—using images, emojis, and CTAs—and they’ve been possible since the launch of iOS 10. Think about plain text emails vs. HTML emails with dynamic content and images—which are more likely to grab your attention? Because users can receive hundreds of push notifications a day, it’s easy for notifications to feel expected or repetitive, which could lead to them getting dismissed or ignored. Using photos and emojis allows users to get more from the notification, all from their home screen—then take next steps like share an article, save an event to their calendar, or favorite an item.

How you implement rich, data-driven push notifications will vary depending on your app’s platform: iOS, Android, or cross-platform.

Some Technical Basics to Get You Started

iOS
There are two types of iOS app notifications you can use to communicate with your users: local and remote notifications. Both of these require code added into your app and API configurations to support scheduling and sending notifications, something that can be added with the User Notifications Framework. With remote notifications, however, one of your own servers is responsible for pushing data to the user’s device via the Apple Push Notification (APN) service. You’re responsible for providing that server environment to both receive data from users’ devices and to send data back to the APN. Remote notifications are supported on iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and macOS.

Android
Firebase Cloud Messaging is the newest version of Google Cloud Messaging, and it allows apps to push notifications to user devices.

3. Make an iPhone app that also works for the iPad (and iWatch, and AppleTV).

Creating an iOS app that is compatible with multiple devices—without users having to download multiple versions of the app—is possible by creating Universal iOS Apps in the Xcode IDE.

Universal apps can be compatible with iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iWatch, and Apple TV—and they provide better user experience because they’re customized with assets for that particular device, not just an iPhone app running on an iPad, for example, which can look stretched or pixelated, or even worse, crash.

To do this, a developer will create assets with multiple resolutions for each device, then specify those targeted devices in Xcode. While this may sound like it will increase the app’s footprint, there’s an optimization called App Thinning that’s available for devices running iOS 9 and beyond. App Slicing creates variants of your app and pushes them out to the App Store to be searchable in categories for each device you’ve indicated that your app supports.

For tvOS, you can create a universal purchase that allows you to distribute a related iOS and tvOS app together.

A really important thing to take into account with universal apps is making your apps adaptive—that is, creating a UI that can change based on “size classes” rather than multiple, custom UIs for different devices. With different devices, orientations, screen sizes, and multitasking features, there are around 300 possible combinations for iOS apps. So how do you create an app that’s adaptive and looks great?

Whether they’re “coarse-grained” changes like iPhone vs. iPad, or fine-grained changes, like an iPhone 6S screen vs. an SE screen, working with traits will ensure your app looks good and presents information in a way that makes sense for that device (e.g. a grid on iPad vs. a table on iPhone).

4. Provide in-app chat support to communicate with users.

In-app solutions are definitely something that can help fight churn and increase conversions. They’re also a great way to promote user engagement and retention. But what about real-time customer service that happens right inside the app? Here’s where you can make your customer service more mobile-driven—and more effective.

Adding in-app customer support chat into your app could help improve customer experience, prevent churn when they can’t find what they’re looking for, or answer questions beyond your FAQs.

There are plenty of options for integrating in-app chat and support into your app, like Zendesk Chat’s native SDKs for iOS and Android, which allow you to embed native chat functionality with only a few lines of code.

5. Customize in-app notifications based on users’ behavior.

We talked about personalized push notifications above and how they’re excellent ways to drive engagement and retention. These types of notifications can happen when the app is in the background—meaning, not open and being used. It’s helpful at bringing latent users back to your app, or providing reminders. But what about when the app is open? That’s where in-app messaging (or, native app content) comes in.

Behavioral in-app notifications are similar in their intention, but they’re more tailored, and aimed at creating longer, more targeted sessions while users are in the app. These are messages sent in response to specific user actions—so they’ll feel a lot like a natural part of the app, not a random marketing message (although they can be a part of a larger marketing effort). They can increase conversion, prompt purchases, or guide users to other parts of the app.

They’re also helpful for:

  • Onboarding new users
  • Deep-linking elsewhere in the app to showcase a feature or sale
  • Curated recommendations based on data gathered on that user
  • Geo-targeting
  • A notification when a new level is reached in a game
  • Pointing out changes to the design or layout of an app
  • Predictive analytics to tell users what you think they’d like to see (based on previous searches, purchases, etc.)

Can be integrated with a third-party service (etc) or done natively in iOS or Android.

6. Implement Touch ID in a mobile app.

When TouchID launched for iOS apps, it gave developers the capability to add an extra layer of security around data used by their apps that wasn’t available before outside of third-party options.

If you want to give your iOS app’s users the ability to login with their fingerprint and authenticate themselves to the device for extra security or to make purchase, an iOS developer proficient in Xcode and the Swift programming language can integrate this convenient feature into your app.

Touch ID is available through the Touch ID API and the Local Authentication framework, which was new to iOS 8.

7. Integrate Apple Pay or Android Pay.

Apple Pay
With Apple Pay, users can pay within apps’ security with the Touch ID biometric authentication (or a double-click on the Apple Watch interface). It skips the steps of entering payment, shipping, and contact information, so they can check out with just one touch.

To get started, an iOS developer will register a merchant ID, enable Apple Pay capabilities in your app, then set up a Payment Processing certificate, which is like an SSL certificate in that it acts as a cryptographic key to send encrypted payment data from the app to your server. Make sure you test your Apple Pay transactions first in the Apple Play Sandbox.

Android Pay
The process is a bit different for Android Pay. First, you’ll want to make sure your app follows the payment guidelines. An Android developer will integrate your app’s payment processing flow with the Android Pay API. Note: If you’re looking to monetize your app with in-app purchases or the sale of digital good, you’ll want Google Play In-App Billing instead of Android Pay.

You’ll need your own payment processor set up, too—one that’s supported by Android Pay. In Android Studio, an Android developer will use the Google Play Services library to configure your project to support Android Pay. The Android Pay API has Java methods to help the developer create everything they need, from buttons to encryption of transactions.

8. Allow your app to use device functionality like the camera, location/GPS, phone.

iOS

To use iOS devices’ camera capabilities, first you have to know what special features they have then use the APIs needed to use those features. For less customized requirements, you’ll probably use the UIImagePickerController API; for more custom solutions, the AV Foundation framework.

Android

With the Android camera API, your app can support cameras for various devices so users can take photos and video within your app. You’ll need to set up your app to request permission to the device’s camera, detect the available camera hardware, then declare what camera features it will need to access. (See a full list of features here.) Your developer will also need to set up Storage Permissions if you want images stored on the device.

9. Enable Facebook or Google Login in mobile app.

Facebook Login for Apps is a fast and convenient way for people to create accounts and log into your app across multiple platforms. Similarly, the Google Identity Platform enables users to sign in to your app with their Google accounts, also securely accessing their Google calendar, contacts, Drive, and Android pay assets.

Learn more about authorization technology in this article.

10. Use deep links to send users directly to content within your mobile app.

Deep links direct your visitors to a specific piece of content within a site, whether that’s an article, a product, or a sub-page. Overall, benefits are driving more traffic to your app, seeing what parts of your app get the most traffic, and giving users the best mobile experience possible.

Typically, for websites, this is just handled by a URL—something that’s not possible within a native app. So how do you deep link in a mobile application?

For iOS

iOS launched Universal Links with the iOS 9 rollout. Apple says “With universal links, you can always give users the most integrated mobile experience, even when your app isn’t installed on their device.” A Universal Link will automatically direct the user to content in the app if the device has the app installed. Otherwise, it will go to a different, optimized experience.

For Android

Android’s answer to deep links is App Links, which are HTTP URLs that direct users to content in your application.

Ready to try out some of these tactics to continue innovating your mobile app? Tapping into freelancers—and Upwork—can be one step in that forward-thinking evolution. Create a job post and get started today.