investigating the app graveyard phenomenon


Last week I backed up my iPhone and for whatever reason, iTunes decided to reinstall every app that I had ever downloaded and previously deleted from my device. It was quite the blast from the past, seeing all of my discarded interests reappear — jarring and slightly sad.

I’d had such high hopes for some of them, some didn’t suit my style, and some seemed to require more effort than I cared to put forth. It was almost like sifting through memories of old relationships, if I get slightly theatrical about it.

Perhaps you are different, but I regularly trim the overgrowth of apps on my phone. In what I’m sure isn’t a coincidence, lately a few of the folks I follow on Twitter have been talking about paring down the number of apps they maintain on their devices. As I respect these people greatly and have been doing the same, I began to consider my own current consumption and pruning habits.

What makes me decide to move on from an app so decisively that I delete it entirely? A few things come to mind.


Relevancy is key and must be one of the main things that keeps mobile app entrepreneurs up at night. If your app isn’t relevant then it has no traction. Unfortunately nothing stays relevant all the time. At one point I downloaded media apps with gusto: CNN, NPR, NBC News, SF Weekly to name a few. I was going to read the news, dammit. But then they sat idle, taking up valuable space on my device. And it occurred to me that I get all of the news I’m interested in from Twitter! Why keep these specific apps when one will do? The choice was clear: delete.

The big guys like the news outlet apps above give me no gut wrenching sensation when I cut them out. The mobile app startups do. I hem and haw because I feel an affinity for those setting out and doing something new, even more so when I respect the hell out of their investors. In some cases I know the entrepreneur behind the product, so it becomes more personal. However, if the app isn’t relevant for me anymore I can make the choice to do what’s best for me and my iPhone memory.

Life Direction

“The only constant is change.” –Heraclitus

A subset of relevancy. True in life, this applies to mobile consumption too. Things just change; sometimes for what initially appears to be no good reason. “Oooooh! I really LOVE the Nike+ running app!” becomes something different in no time if it starts to affect my mental health. As in life where relationships falter, where yoga doesn’t seem as appealing anymore, where I’m suddenly over a restaurant I enjoyed yesterday, etc., etc., ad infinitum, a question like “Do I absolutely need this clunky DeYoung Museum app all the time?” periodically surfaces. Sometimes I’m ready to let go when that directional shift occurs, sometimes I hang on. But the question does eventually come and preferences change.

“Spring Cleaning”

Sometimes it just feels good to delete stuff. How many people have I talked to who after completing a major Twitter or Facebook friend overhaul say “It felt so good!” The last grooming of my apps included not just deleting but also sorting my most used into folders and finally putting it all on my home screen. It has been a few weeks and periodically I forget where I’ve filed an app but when I went through that exercise I felt like I was accomplishing something. If I can’t recall the last time I launched a particular app, then it swiftly gets the axe when I’m in this mode. I am a Type A, do-er after all.

Since I’m a curious person, I thought I’d ask: how do you decide when to delete an app off your phone? Do you delete them at all? Are you as philosophical about it as I am (…apparently)? Tell me, tell me!

Image via iPhone How To


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