Why people stop using an appIn the case of social media, users stop liking the content or feel it is a waste of time.
The recent news about Twitter’s closest competitor, Threads, garnering 10 million users in just seven hours or about 30 million users in one day is taking social media by storm. Twitter owner Elon Musk has announced that he will sue Thread and Meta for stealing trade secrets. Time alone will tell whether users will drop Twitter for Thread, or continue using both and eventually choose one of the two.
This piece is based on in-depth interviews with 39 user respondents about factors that prompted them to stop using their mobile apps.
There were personal reasons such as a sense of insecurity, habit and lifestyle change, lack of clear purpose or need, unmet expectations, lack of motivation and need for discipline forced users to drop them. And there were other reasons like poor interface and service quality such as complexity and faulty design features. The third reason was related to the materiality of the device and supporting infrastructure such as quality and cost of an internet connection. The fourth reason for app discontinuance was the availability of better alternatives such as a better and upgraded version of the app or more powerful apps like super apps and AI-powered apps. Lastly, reasons from the external environment like disciplinary agencies (forced government closure and regulations, or merger and shutdown of companies) and language barriers and cultural differences also caused users to stop using an app.
Generally, app discontinuance is perceived merely as a behavioural action where users move on from one app to another or decide to discontinue apps over a period of time. What is not considered is the time and space when such discontinuance happens. App discontinuance comprises various forms as categorised in the available literature on information systems. It can be a form of rejection, regressive discontinuance, temporary discontinuance, quitting and replacement. These forms are categorised based on the phase of the information system's life cycle where the users get exposed to the mobile app, adopted it, and continued using it until a point where they reached a state of discontinuance. Other forms of app discontinuance manifest in the form of use reduction, oscillation, on and off app usage, parallel app usage and cyclical use.
While theories abound about app discontinuance, preventing this phenomenon from happening is challenging. Based on insights that emerged from my exploratory research, the most common form of app discontinuance is temporary discontinuance, especially in the case of social media. Users either become disenchanted with the content, or start developing a dislike towards the owner, or simply feel it is a waste of time as it distracts them from more productive pursuits in life. Whether in utilitarian (functional) app usage or hedonic (enjoyment) app usage, users take time to weigh the benefits among different apps. For instance, a user must have been disappointed by a social media app, or a utility app such as a food delivery app. However, discontinuance does not happen instantly unless the app design is horrible and users are not willing to give it a second chance. Users quit when they find the user interface too clumsy or have navigation difficulties during their first experience with the app.
Given our social context, users are faced with multiple choices. They are willing to try multiple apps before deciding on one. They use an app on and off, or use it while comparing the features, discounts, offers and prices of others. They finally dump an app when they find it is not worth maintaining on their mobile. When they see that the app has no functional benefit but is occupying space on their phone, they deactivate the account and delete the app immediately. App discontinuance is also likely to occur when users move from the free version to the paid version for better functionality and outcomes. Most users, when they can't decide which app to use, continue keeping several leading ultimately to a situation of infrequent use. To avoid this, features should be developed in all kinds of smartphones that notify users that apps have become dormant.
To sum up, app discontinuance should be studied from the viewpoint of the time when users move from one app to another. Alternatively, it has to be studied when they keep toying with the idea of having multiple apps. App developers must consider this and regularly inform users about their app usage patterns and frequency. Users often have multiple apps and lose track of what they have on their sets. It is high time app developers and strategists came together to study the different forms of discontinuance. If they can identify the causes, it can be curbed to create a win-win situation.