When it comes to mobile strategy and product design, is less more?

Foursquare generated buzz recently when it announced that it would be splitting its app into two. The new app, Swarm, will center on connecting users to their friends through the signature check-in feature, while the Foursquare app will be simplified to focus on discovery of new places. In a recent interview, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley said the pivot is aimed at improving user experiences and making each app faster and easier to use,

We believe the best apps out there are the ones with a single-case use that can be described in a sentence or tweet.” — Dennis Crowley.

Square made a similar move this week when it launched Square Order, a new app allowing users to order, pay, and collect meals from nearby restaurants in a single streamlined flow.

The advent of multiple, single-purpose apps under the federation of a single brand is a relatively new trend that stands in contrast to the empire building tactics employed by many tech leaders over the last decade. It’s possible more established digital players are following the fresher design example set by companies like Venmo and Snapchat that have done one thing, but have done it very well.

As industry capabilities increase — and consumer expectations rise with them — the idea of navigating intricate menus and complicated user flows to complete a task becomes less and less appealing. Herein lies the strength of single-purpose apps: by being fast and easy to use, they can more rapidly and seamless integrate with a user’s routine, forming a stronger relationship between user and brand.

Defining Mobile Strategy

A major risk of spinning your company’s features into multiple products is that your core users may not follow. Facebook was burned by its failed attempt to spin off Poke and Photos into, now defunct, separate apps. This risk can be minimized by knowing your audience and building your mobile strategy by putting consumers first.

Any company considering how best to develop a mobile ecosystem should meticulously review its core user base, analyzing needs and behavior and mapping out key consumer journeys. Weighing this analysis against a digital business case will identify the highest value consumer experiences to prioritize for mobile development. These experiences should be siloed as necessary so that the individual products are useful and usable while brand voice and design remain consistent and strong.

Revenue models and industry factors should be also be considered. Traditional businesses like Colgate Palmolive that house a multitude of distant brands should certainly develop unique apps for each, though other companies may be limited to a single app by customer permissions or other limitations.

However, the move to multiple, single-purpose apps under a single brand is not consistent across the tech world, as some former single-use stars like Snapchat pivot to broader use cases under a single app. In the next two parts of this week’s mobile series, we’ll explore the advantages of multi-purpose apps and hybrid strategies.