The 3 Cs of Mobile Engagement

Two years after Pinch Media released their iTunes App Store Secrets report, I still see this iconic curve on a regular basis:

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a game or a productivity app, free or paid, the typical mobile app is dumped like a cheerleader after prom night. Most are all but abandoned within a month or two, which means they’re either ill-conceived, poorly designed, or both. It’s especially sad when you consider how hard it is to get your app onto someone’s phone in the first place. With a million apps in the iTunes store competing for the same real estate, it’s tough to get yours discovered, much less downloaded.

Every developer wants to be one of the lucky few who break through, but they should also want to make their apps sticky. So what does it take buck the curve? To answer this, it’s important to look at the ways mobile apps are used.

I organize mobile app usage scenarios into concepts I’m going to call the 3 Cs, and the more of them that factor in to an app, the stickier it is.


These are apps that keep you connected to things you can’t stand to be away from. The great grandfather in this category is mobile email, which is what made Blackberry into Crackberry. Newer, sexier examples are Facebook (iTunes store link), Twitter and any other app for accessing time-sensitive content (NetNewsWire, Sportacular). The common thread is freshness – a steady stream of new content. Push alerts are key to Continuity apps, since they tell users when there’s something new to see.


Mobile devices and ubiquitous 3G and GPS created whole categories of apps built around the here and now. Location and presence. If you find yourself wandering around a city block in search of a public restroom, you can check SitOrSquat. Hungry? fire up Yelp, or Foodspotting. These apps keep you coming back because of their contextual relevance and utility. Yelp’s iPhone app has become my de facto Yellow Pages to the half-mile radius.


Modern culture has killed our appetite for idleness. We’re uncomfortable with silence. When we have some extra capacity – for lack of a better alliterative term – we fill it as quickly as we can. Mobile apps are ideal for this, especially almost any kind of game. As far as stickiness goes, though, this is the weakest of the 3 Cs. Most games lose their appeal after a month or two, and there are certainly a lot of games represented in the Pinch Media curve.

The stickiest apps are the ones that span more than one of these concepts. Foursquare, for example, covers all three. There’s Continuity in the need to know where your friends are, Context in the location features, Capacity in the gamelike mechanics around acquiring status and collecting various rewards.

Mobile video apps make up another category that spans several of the Cs. People watch short-form videos during idle moments – while riding the bus to work or waiting in line for the ATM – which is another way of saying people use them when they have some extra Capacity. Kyte (my current employer) makes it easy to distribute video content to mobile devices, which enables publishers to keep it fresh, which in turn means Kyte-powered video apps check the box for Continuity. The Kyte Mobile App Frameworks take Continuity further with turnkey support for integrated Twitter updates and RSS feeds, giving brands and publishers a multi-dimensional engagement opportunity.