ePrivacy and GPDR Cookie Consent by Cookie Consent
image of mobile phone with list of apps

The problem with mobile apps

Mobile apps appear to be a hugely successful tool, but the reality is much darker. How do apps really work? And what are they failing to do for users?
January 20, 2022

Mobile phone users in the UK currently have an average screen time of 4.8 hours a day – a number that continues to grow every year. Statistics also show that apps were downloaded 230 billion times in 2021, while a whopping £125 billion was spent on app purchases. And with the average person using nine mobile apps per day and 30 apps per month, there’s no slowing them down.

But on the flip side of this shiny app success, the reality is much darker. How do apps really work? And what are they failing to do for users?

Smartphone screen with different apps

Privacy and data tracking

If the average smartphone user has a total of 80 apps, this means that more than 62% of those apps are likely not being used every month – which leaves a lot of room for personal data to float around aimlessly in!

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of mobile apps are consistently collecting lots of data about its users for basic functionality. For instance, if you pay for an app through a subscription service, the app's developer needs access to your address, name and bank details in order to verify your account status. This is the same for any in-app purchases, paid apps and paid affiliates within apps.

Even with ‘free’ apps, you’ve likely still used personal details to set up an account such as your name, address, email and login details (including a password that many people tend to use for multiple accounts!) This level of data sharing is always risky, especially as we’re all guilty of downloading apps, entering all of our personal details and then never opening them again.

So, what are they actually tracking?

• Data Used to Track You (or your device) and shared across different apps, ad networks, and the company

• Data Linked to You (and your real identity) that is collected by the app and company but not shared

• Data Not Linked to You that the company generally collects for larger statistics

This data tracking explains how you can search for something in one app, and then ads for that product start showing up in other apps – like Instagram – which many users feel compromises or invades their privacy.  

Intrusive ads

One of the major gripes that a lot of people have with apps is the number of pop-ups or display ads. But with free apps comes a lot of ads, and with ads comes an element of intrusion to our devices.

Not only are most of these apps impersonal and irrelevant to the user, but they’re also destroying the overall user experience. This in turn makes for a poor-quality app that isn’t directly benefitting the individual. Unfortunately, the nature of app advertising means that this is pretty standard practice, and to use these apps frequently we simply have to put up with it.

Although this is the norm, it doesn’t have to be. The introduction of more natural processes – such as native advertising – are becoming increasingly more popular. This is particularly important for user personalisation, allowing companies to target users with rich content that positively impacts them.

Push notifications

How many times have you installed an app, only to be met with a spool of annoying, unwanted push notifications?

While it’s simple enough to go into your settings and switch them off, it’s still not very ethical to overload or spam users with lots of unnecessary notifications. It’s invasive, impersonal and often just used as a sales tactic or for clickbait.

The solution to this is to give the individual the opportunity to either opt in or opt out of notifications, much like we all do for emails or SMS messages. That way, we’re only receiving the information that is applicable to what we’re using the app for. For example, if you’re using a transport app to plan your journey, you don’t need notifications about other trainlines or transport news. What you actually need is personalised information about your journey – and nothing else.

Complex setups

Another common grumble that often deters people from using apps is the setup process. Overly long, complicated account systems are the last thing users want when downloading an app for a specific purpose.

Picture it: you use your browser to search for a product or a service. That website or service then instructs you to download their mobile app. You download the app, wait for it to install and click into it. Then – before you’ve even began searching (again) for the original thing you wanted – you’re asked to set up an account with your name, address, email, username, password and go through the rigmarole of two-factor authentication or a verification process.

Once you’ve done all of that, we’re back to square one with the data tracking, the push notifications and the intrusive ads. All common practices used by apps to influence our online behaviours.

In addition to this, an alarming number of users are going through the rigmarole of this for only one thing. This means the app is likely not going to be opened again but will remain on the user’s device for much longer than necessary. That’s a lot of time, effort and personal data going in to a single-use app!

Smartphone screen on surface with apps

Why we’re not an app

We’re always asked about our own platform, and why we haven’t created a Zipabout app. Simply put, we choose not to build an app because we have a much better and more user-friendly way to deliver what passengers need on the channels they already have – like WhatsApp and Messenger.

Today's transport apps make a great deal of assumptions about people. For example, not everyone can read well or setup their own journey routes. There are also people who hate maps or don’t have a huge sense of direction. There are elderly people who could easily get confused downloading apps to their phones, or people who are just generally too busy to do so.  

Most apps try to fit too much information into an existing user interface or assume that every user has the same personality and behaviours. This leads to a service that doesn’t appreciate the individual user experience. Customers don't want to learn a new app. They often don't even want to download one.

Ultimately, our goal is to simplify the user experience and offer a solution to problems such as these. With our personalisation technology, we're giving everyone the opportunity to access a simple, seamless travel tool - without the distraction or tracking properties of an app.