When an addicting app is released, people look at the developers and say how lucky they are that the public loves the app. Addicting apps are rarely happy accidents though; there is big money in having teens glued to their phones, using their favorite apps all day long. In 2016, apps revenue was $52 billion worldwide.
Hooking people through apps is a science, at least according to California startup Dopamine Labs, which uses neuroscience and artificial intelligence to advise companies on how to build addicting features into their apps. With more than a quarter of all iOS app developers earning approximately $5,000 per month, it is easy to see why companies would pay Dopamine Labs to give them an edge in the increasingly crowded app market. Game apps bring in more revenue than any other type of app, primarily through purchases made in the app.
Addicting apps trigger a burst of dopamine in user’s brains, creating a euphoric feeling that they want to repeat by using the app multiple times per day. Facebook excels at the practice; the helpful notification that someone commented on the user’s post is a trigger, designed to get people to open the Facebook app. When someone likes the post, a reward encourages the user to keep opening the app and posting, hoping for more rewards.
Dopamine Labs uses artificial intelligence to advise clients when to reward app users, to keep them using the app for as long as possible at a time and repeatedly come back to it. Addicting features, such as push notifications, are literally built into apps that depend on advertising for revenue. Fortunately, the addiction is not self-destructive, and it is one parents can control easily with the push of a button.