Apps & Marketing

Mapping The Hidden Cost Of Mobile Apps

7 min read

alcatel-lucent mobile app rankings reportThe App Economy is not just exploding, generating revenues for the app developers that monetize their apps with the aid of traditional mobile advertising, in-app purchases and clever approaches that harness native ads to deliver a more integrated ­— hence engaging — experience. Mobile apps, which demand bandwidth, eat battery life and devour data plans, are also generating costs that impact the businesses of mobile operators and the experiences of users everywhere on the planet.

How much do apps cost the ecosystem? And what can developers do to reduce the impact of their apps on the network while increasing the quality of the user experience they deliver? The Mobile Application Rankings Report, a new report from Alcatel-Lucent, is the first to rate and rank apps based on key criteria such as their impact on mobile operator networks and on our devices.

Specifically, the report measures and scores apps based on factors including the data they demand (data volume) and their signaling, that is, how often they use the network —and our batteries — to send notifications or establish a contact with the network to send or receive data.

Among the findings:

  • The top battery-draining apps are Nimbuzz, Yahoo Messenger, BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Kik, Viber and Palringo.
  • The apps with the biggest impact on the consumer data plan are YouTube, Netflix, Facebook Video, Pandora and Instagram Video.
  • Apps that impact the network due to their high data volume — a group that includes most video apps, along with iTunes, Instagram, Pinterest, Apple Maps and Pandora — are obviously targets for bandwidth optimization.
  • The lowest-volume cost apps for consumers by category are Yahoo Mail and Gmail (mail); Blogger,, Live Messenger and Viber (social media); and Instagram Video (video).

Look for a more detailed analysis of the report findings and implications for the ecosystem — app developers, enterprises and service providers — in my next blog over at Gigaom Research, where I am a mobile analyst.

Optimize for app success

But what’s really outstanding about this report — and why it’s high on my list of required reading — is that it’s based on actual app usage by more than 15 million users on live 3G networks across North America, APAC and the Middle East.

So, in addition to being able to ‘name and blame’ the apps (see above) that are draining resources and trying our patience with ‘chattiness’, this report also gives us new insights into global app trends.

At one level, the data is interesting to VCs and mobile analysts like myself on the lookout for cool companies like social/messaging app Tango rising up the app ranks in specific geographies like the Middle East. At the other end of the spectrum, app developers can — and should — use the data to understand their true app impact.

Take signaling. Clearly, notifications and updates add value to my app experience. But does my app really need to open a channel to send me notifications/updates the moment they happen — even overnight when I couldn’t care less? Wouldn’t it be better for me — my data plan and my device/battery life — if developers would work to optimize the app by perhaps ‘bolting’ this signaling together to deliver in a kind of batch?

And it’s not just about individual consumers (although the social apps we use are  de facto among the most ‘chatty’ on our device).

In an age of BYOD enterprises can no doubt benefit from understanding the apps that impact efficiency and network resources. Perhaps the insights and hard data contained in this report will equip them for a productive dialog with app developers, allowing both parties to identify what needs to be optimized and how so that the ‘connected company’ can stay connected without wastage.

The importance of data lies at the center of a real-life app story involving Facebook. In mid-November 2012 Facebook introduced a new version of its app at the same time that service providers around the globe saw a 5-10 percent jump in signaling. Alcatel-Lucent brought this mobile network impact to the attention of Facebook, helping it to narrow down the cause and solve the issue at the root. The culprit contributing to the signaling increase was the new Android version of the app (not the iOS version) and Facebook released a new version of the app in March 2013 that restored signaling levels to pre-November 2012 levels.

My take:

Facebook got it right — but many other apps have yet to optimize and find the balance between the resources they consume and the value they deliver. Fortunately, this report provides the facts needed to kick off the conversation and spark the shift in thinking, design and priorities that will produce apps that benefit people and providers alike.