Brands must address data concerns as apps get more sophisticated

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YouTube lets users choose quality

As mobile applications are providing richer, more complex experiences, marketers need to keep data usage in mind both in terms of consumers who do not have unlimited data plans and in terms of creating an overall better experience with fast download times.

A number of apps have recently dipped their toes into this data-conscious world, offering consumers different experiences based on the amount of data they want to use and providing speedier experiences despite image or video-heavy content. While not all apps need to explicitly notify a consumer about data monitoring and usage, it is definitely a consideration that marketers should keep in mind when developing more complex, data-heavy apps.

Data hog apps like streaming video, music and games could extend a big courtesy to consumers in helping them monitor their data usage, said David Hewitt, global lead of mobile for SapientNitro, Boston, MA.

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Streaming a season of ‘Breaking Bad’ on a mobile device may only cost 25 bucks from Amazon, but could cost over $500 in data overages on a standard data plan if one didn’t throttle quality or swap to Wi-Fi, he said.

What is interesting is that when we allow consumers to monitor themselves it can fundamentally change behavior. That added benefit can create brand love with new utility (ie. allowing the consumer to save money off their wireless bill), but can also create distraction from consuming the content at hand. Brands should consider whether the added data monitoring will be a welcome delight or a needless distraction.

Not your job
Truthfully, data monitoring is the job of carriers. Consumers can find out how much data they have left by checking their account.

There are also third-party apps that help users determine how much data they are using.

However, branded apps can still benefit from either monitoring users data and notifying them or even providing different options depending on how much data a user has.

For example, YouTube now lets consumers choose the quality of the video they are watching. This not only helps for data-conscious consumers but also helps consumers who may not have the best Wi-Fi connection and are not interested in waiting hours to download a three-minute video.

Other video and audio streaming apps such as Spotify, Hulu and Pandora would be smart to follow in YouTubes steps.

Compression
Whether or not apps decide to directly inform users of data usage, it behooves them to take data into consideration when creating the app.

Even for users that have unlimited data, they do not want to wait half an hour for an image to load on their phone. It is up to the marketer to create the smallest possible download time for its content.

Compression is very prevalent on mobile applications in large part due to enhancing performance for older network speeds and to help mobile apps feel more native/snappy in use, Mr. Hewitt said. As in desktop environments, screen load times can help drive conversion-related metrics as well.

Retail apps that include lots of videos and hi-res images on their homepage may turn away consumers who do not want to wait for the page to load.

According to Mr. Hewitt, most data that is used to personalize an experience, such as counting steps taken in a day or unlocking your car with your phone, can be delivered in small bits with a short load time.

Other features, however, may take up more data. For example, figuring out a consumers route traveled via GPS, gameplay for a marketers analytic targeting and document storage for cloud-based services can add up to a lot of data.

Mr. Hewitt suggests being transparent with consumers about how much data an app will consume.

Facebook has hinted that it will be entering the data monitoring realm in the near future with its recent purchase of Onavo, an application that enables users to monitor their data usage and compress data so they do not reach their monthly cap as quickly (see story).

Facebook will be able to notify consumers of their data levels to help them better use their monthly allowances. Consumers will also be able to compress data so that they can spend more time on Facebook without eating away their data plans.

Facebook cares just because of their overall volume, Mr. Hewitt said. If they can increase the data their saving, they can save money. Theyre not doing it so much to help you but to reduce their own costs.


Onavo measures data usage

Best practices
There a number of different tactics that app develops can use in addition to notifying consumers of data levels.

According to Scott Michaels, vice president and partner at Atimi, Vancouver, Canada, marketers should make the original download of the app contain the data-heavy features. A consumer expects the original download of an app to take a lot of time, so this will not be as unwelcome as opposed to time lags once the app has already been downloaded.

However, marketers need to make sure that the original app download is not so big that consumers cannot install them over the air.

Another tactic marketers can use to save data is to prepare for the next page before a consumer even clicks on a button. When a consumer is browsing a page and there is no action taking place, the app can get the assets ready for the next screen.

Good developers take into account the amount of data they are passing down to the end user all the time, Mr. Michaels said. The main reason is obvious, we are always playing the game of showing the user what they want, as fast as possible in a good application.

We need your app to feel fast,” he said. “That means doing lots of things to achieve that goal, but compression is just a small piece of that puzzle.

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York


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