The Obsession With the Now
A few months ago, Apple released the list of the most downloaded free apps of 2016. If you know why people open their mouths when they take selfies, then you probably know which app went number 1.
Yes, that of the doggy ears and flower crowns, Snapchat, was the most downloaded free app of 2016. Interestingly, coming in at number two is a familiar name, Facebook Messenger. Looking at the list, you will see a snapshot of the world we live in today — or rather, snapshots. With Instagram and Facebook coming in at 4 and 5, the massive (but short-lived?) augmented reality hit Pokemon Go is the odd app out in the top 5 — and even that game can take pictures!
But our love affair with smartphone photography is as old as the iPhone itself. Finding out that many people downloaded apps to take pictures is not something of a surprise. Yet if anything can paint a picture of the times, you can expect the top app developers to know a thing or two about it.
While Snapchat did tap into our fancy for funny photos, its signature feature is one that is telling of this generation: Stories. If I still need to explain it to you, Snapchat Stories are a series of photos and short videos that tell the world what is happening to you right now. These stories can only be viewed for a certain amount of time, so your followers will have to view them now or forever hold their likes.
You can tell that this fascination with sharing the fleeting present has become a movement of sorts with the response of the makers of the number 2 free app. When Facebook launched Stories earlier this year, it was nothing short of a blatant Snapchat rip off, but even before that, the Facebook-owned Instagram had also debuted Instagram Stories. As you see these copycats did not even shy away from using the same naming system. Meanwhile, Youtube (at number 6) had also begun allowing all users to broadcast live video streaming. The unmistakable truth here is this: we want to see or know what is happening, exactly as it is happening.
What does this tell us about the world, and how does it affect mobile app development as a whole?
This obsession with the now is just a symptom of the times. We want things done in a snap. The growth of mobile technology and the accessibility that a continually connected world provides have spoiled us. We do not want to wait for things. We do not want to wait to see what is happening in our friends’ lives later. We want it now. We want to see NASA rocket launches, but we don’t just want a video of it. We want to see it live.
When developing an app, you must be aware of this. If you have a collaboration app, you must realise that everyone in the team wants to be notified of any update as soon as someone presses send. They want push or even SMS notifications (with the ability to turn it off on demand, of course). There is a reason why except in cases when they are conscious of battery life or data limits, mobile users have their autosync on. We want to be constantly connected. We are prisoners of the moment, and “later” is just code for us missing out.
This also means you can no longer make your apps either an online version or an offline one. They should be both. You will notice that apps are increasingly coming out as a regular online version with an offline option, so that they can still be used even when there is no connection.
For example, we want to stream our music through Spotify, and we want to know what our friends are listening to, but we also want to be able to play songs anytime, even when we are offline. The same goes for movies and Netflix. When we travel outside our coverage area or are in rural locations, we do not want to wait until we have a good connection before we update their to-do list. The same refrain applies: we want it now.
Finally, recognizing that people use different devices simultaneously, you must design your app with multiple screens in mind. When they update their calendars on their phones, they expect the same app to be updated in their other devices. Users are more likely to download an app if it works on their phones, tablets, wearable, and even on their desktops.
These days, we are more instant than ever, because what is more immediate than live? This tells us a lot about the market, for better or for worse. But it can also guide you when you build your apps. If you did not take this into consideration when you designed your app, it is high time that you do.
Better now than later.