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So you want to create an app for Gen Z? Listen up.

They might live in different countries and continents, but mobile developers share a lingua franca most of their peers can only guess at. A young mobile developer living in Shenzhen, China (home to iDreamSky, the largest mobile game development company in the world) shares the same coding languages of Javascript, Python or C++ as his or her colleagues in London, Kerala or Seattle. They “speak” the same code. And their products compete side by side in the same globally accessible app stores.

If mobile developers are responsible for creating the “worldwide app internet,” then Generation Z, the world’s first truly “global generation,” are the first to consume it fully. They might live mountains and oceans apart, but Gen Zers cohabit the same mobile games, browse similar e-commerce apps and communicate with each other via the same social media and they tend to favor apps that share similar characteristics globally: apps that are easy to use but fun; apps that give their users freedom to share on social media without being harshly judged; and at least for those apps requiring purchase apps that offer the greatest value for their market price.

Keeping these tendencies in mind, we bring you some tips on designing apps for the iGen.

1. Keep it simple but keep it fun

If you’re going to build an app, make sure it doesn’t take up too much space on “Z” phones. They’re too busy taking photos and videos and unless it’s something they use daily, they’re not going to give it the time of day. Your app is taking up precious memory and it’s a privilege for it to stay there. In fact, research from Roko Labs indicates that an app taking up too much space is one of the main reasons Gen Zers delete them from their phones. If you go and create an unwieldy app with slow loading times, bulky SDKs and too many ads served... your app will be the first on the chopping block.

But when it comes to apps, size obviously isn’t the only thing that matters. Gen Zers want apps that are both story-driven and easy to play. In China, the mobile game Honour of Kings has more than 55 million devoted fans — most of them under the age of 25. In fact, it turns out the fantasy roleplaying/combat game is so popular among young people in China that it’s sometimes perceived as a threat to work or studying. As one 23-year-old girl explains it, “I’m out of work at the moment, so apart from when I’m eating or sleeping I play Honour of Kings non-stop until the system kicks me out.”

2. Let them share what they want, but control how they share it

You’ll notice similar worldwide trends among Gen Zers when it comes to social media privacy. In a world where social media reputation can make or break a Gen Zer’s reputation in real life, these trends shouldn’t come as any surprise. One recent study showed American teens favoring Snapchat and its ability to make messages disappear instantly once seen. Gen Zers use the app up to 11 times per day on average to keep up with their friends. This is very different than earlier generations who prefer to rely on other social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, which are less anonymousAmerican Gen Zers still enjoy the notion of breaking the internet with the collective weight of their likes, loves and Instagram selfies, but they’re cautious about how they share that information lives on.

3. Give them something they find value in 

So this is a tricky nut to crack. Gen Zers seem to share a dislike for apps that aren’t free to download. But not everything on the iOS App Store comes for free. In fact, there are some paid-for apps that nevertheless hold a strong allure for college students. Paid apps like Evernote, iStudiez Pro Legend and Quizlet Go all help students get through the day-to-day mechanics of studying. Similarly, apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge offer students better chances at finding dates on-campus or off campus — but the best features of these apps are frequently ones they need to pay for in order to unlock.

So what influences them to actually tap purchase?

One way of getting students to splurge on apps is through offering exclusive incentives for apps they need or want to buy. Think of how Amazon, the second-most popular app for teens and collegiates, rewards students with its Amazon Prime Student. Kids can save money when buying university essentials like groceries, music and the latest in flash-factor electronics and still have extra in the bank to pay their tuition.

At the same time, Amazon understands something many brands don’t always get making them feel special. The same goes for successful, student-aligned affiliate and affinity marketing networks. A similar strategy, if applied broadly across an entire app store, could likely result in increased sales traffic for major app platforms, provided it follows the same rules listed above.

4. Don't create an app in a vacuum

Gen Z is finicky so don’t take this all as a one-size-fits-all approach. Whether you see it or not, marketing, consumer insights, data, and even your PR, ecommerce or HR teams could be a great place to start as far as building the right app for your brand. See what the Zs are loving, what they’re hating on, what’s trending via your social channels and see if any gaps exist where an app might help. The more you get to know Gen Z and what makes them tick at the personal level, the more educated and better suited you’ll be to create the best app to reflect your brand.

In Conclusion

Apps have taken the world by storm and they show no signs of abetting anytime soon. Moreover, the most successful of mobile developers in different countries have created apps that bear the same intrinsic, universal qualities and features that Gen Zers crave: simplicity, shareability without being held up to the spotlight on social media and value. If mobile developers hope to continue attracting Gen Z’s business, they best be paying attention. This is the same generation who is already anticipating and expecting one-hour drone delivery. And the same ones who are 60 percent more likely than other generations to hang up when companies don’t pick up their phones in 45 seconds or less...

When it comes to building apps for Gen Z, the playing field is no different.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler
Contributor, Gen Z Insights

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