The Case Against “Portal” Smartphone Apps

By Emily Haigis

There’s a common misconception that those who have smartphones want it all and they want it now!

This misconception has been manifested in the form of applications called “portal” apps. What’s a “portal” app, you ask?

It’s an app within an app. These are especially popular among higher ed institutions where you can usually find mini apps for events, transcripts, classes, grades, bus routes, athletic schedules, news and about a dozen other topics inside of a master app.


On the surface this may sound like a clever strategy, but in the design world, this idea flies in the face of the honored mantra of “do one thing and do it well” by trying to create an entire operating system within an operating system. It’s the content marketing world’s equivalent of focusing on quality over quantity.

If you still need more convincing, check out these three tips and you’ll never go with portal apps again.

Portal Apps (3)

Give Users A Specific Solution for a Specific Problem

Users should be able to solve a specific problem when they open your mobile app. Having distinct applications that aren’t within the confines of a portal app helps your audience to tune out the noise and focus on their immediate interests and needs.

Developing specific solutions also ensures that the app’s usability is top notch. It’s inevitable that as the number of solutions your app offers goes up, its actual effectiveness goes down.

Should You Use Responsive Design or an App? Download our guide to find out.

Your App Should Not Be Out of Sight Out of Mind

When Apple launched the iPhone, its stock applications gave app developers a subtle hint as to how they should deliver users a positive mobile experience. Many applications, such as the calculator and notes, could have all been combined into one application, but that would hinder the user’s desire to access applications as quickly as possible when the need arises.

Screenshot 2015-06-23 13.16.45

In practice, you’d be allowing your users to skip over a “junk drawer” by providing them with a “tool belt” for one touch access.

Tailored Apps = Tailored Promotion

If your applications stand alone then your team can promote and manage apps according to its specific uses and features. For example, if you’re in the business of hosting events, an events-only mobile app will perfectly complement your online and offline marketing efforts. While promoting your event, you can simultaneously publicize the correlating app. You’ll hit two birds with one stone.


With separate applications you can more efficiently promote the different facets of your organization.

Bonus Tip: Provide a seamless transition from desktop to phone.

By creating dedicated applications allows you to develop apps that not only mimic and work in conjunction with the desktop interfaces by way of display, but also by way of familiarity. Having the same features and functions present in a mobile app ensures that students won’t encounter a disconnect from the desktop experience if they choose to go mobile.

Learn how Localist can help your organization become mobile friendly. 

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