Why you shouldn’t develop an app

Photo: Flickr user Rog01: https://flic.kr/p/cYeye5

Apps today are a bit like what software programs used to be on a computer. You need to download the program from a medium such as a CD-ROM or the app store. Once installed, you place the program somewhere into the vastness of your desktop or mobile screen maze, with the developer in frantic distress that you will find it ever again and lo and behold regularly open it.

From the old install-your-program-days, the Internet then brought about a shift to a much more instant demand-led model, whereby services could be accessed on a need-only basis through websites and online subscriptions.

The Internet developed and we now have over 1 billion websites online. In recognising the need for consumers to directly access services they require, the mobile phone largely developed as a platform for apps first, and mobile Internet second. The Internet now is simply too large and arguably too slow to efficiently let people access services instantaneously. Secondly, mobile browsers are very bad at using native mobile functionality such as notifications, the camera, your contacts, and all those things that we love about our apps (I’ll come back to that, keep reading).

Then why do you say I shouldn’t develop an app?

1. Seriously, I have to download an app for this?

You know how you just read about the sheer vastness of the Internet? Now have a look at the app store, Apple’s or Google’s, it doesn’t matter. What’s your best guess for how many apps are now available through these stores? I’ll tell you — in mid-2015 (that’s a whole year ago!) each store had around 1.5 million apps.

You want to order food? get an app. You’re going to an event? get the app. Split the bill at dinner? there’s an app for that. Going for a run after dinner? don’t forget the app. Going to the bathroom? well… For every little thing there is an app. It is no wonder that app usage is actually on the decline.

2. Mobile browsers are getting smarter

Mobile browsers can actually access many of the phone’s hardware, just like an app can. It’s just that most website developers are really bad at implementing this. In fact, check your favourite websites — how many of them are actually well adjusted to the mobile screen and functionality?

Now I’d argue that mobile browsers, including the underlying technology in how they and websites are built, are increasingly getting ‘smarter’. That’s to say that websites can now better mimic app-behaviour and using your phone’s hardware features. Well, says the programmer reading this (you!), that’s a bit of a tricky statement and not really true — web is definitely still inferior to native, with many a complicated scripts and libraries needed to even get close to app-like behaviour. Right. But look at where things are going:

3. Android’s Instant Apps lead the way

Most services do not need to be on your home screen. “Instead, they require one just-in-time interaction — when you need their opening hours, phone number, or menu.”(source & quoted in an interesting web-vs.-native discussion here.) This is where Android’s new Instant Apps come in. They will offer you the bite-sized portion of service that you need just then and there, not the whole app, the whole website.

Just like Instant Apps, the mobile web is equally evolving. I expect to see a much closer amalgamation of what is ‘web’ and ‘native mobile’. The question is to become through which channel can I best offer this specific service of my service menu to the customer right now? (and then see how to retain them later…)

People won’t know whether it’s an ‘app’, a ‘bite-sized instant app’, a ‘website’, a ‘bot service’ or anything in between. They just know they want this service and it should deliver in whatever way best. As a pop-up, as a message, as a window, as a voice interaction, as a chat, or by showing cards of relevant info.

4. A key channel will be messaging platforms

“You never have to call 1–800-FLOWERS again” said Zuckerberg when introducing the Facebook messenger bot. Or, use their app for that matter. There’s now a chatbot explosion that will resemble the app store (& Internet?) explosion some years ago. Many call the launch of bots and botstores the most consequential event for the tech industry. Chat apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites. This is the beginning of a new internet. (see here or here).

Surely, bots on the existing messaging platforms such as KIK, Slack, Facebook are a part of the story (and surely the other large platforms such as WeChat, LINE, WhatsApp to follow suit soon). But they are only a part.

Instant service delivery will define success

Apps are only good when they’re efficient and really needed. For anything else, it’s a nuisance. However instant service delivery can be improved, that’s what will succeed big time.

My best guess is that chat bots will play a massive role primarily by leveraging the huge audience they naturally have through the existing messaging platforms’ user base. But let’s not forget SMS and services like the promising Indonesian start-up Yes Boss. This is a big hope for telcos also.

Lastly, let’s not overdo it with fake “AI” please. Microsoft should be a lesson enough on this. So, let’s get onto the chat bot craze and ditch our app developers.

I look forward to your feedback. Also check out my post on 5 reasons why telcos won’t exist in 5 years. And feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.