Workflow for iOS, Mobile Discovery, and Where We’re Headed in 2015

A friend recently asked my opinion on the productivity app Workflow, which has received some great press around the web, including Business Insider.

I am pro-workflow. I think they’re barking up the right tree in mobile, but it may be just a first step in the larger natural evolution the ecosystem. Right problem, maybe not the right player to ultimately solve it. But that first step they’ve taken has created value, so good for them. What am I talking about? The biggest problem in mobile today: discovery and shared protocols between apps. Benedict Evans accurately describes the pieces of this problem being interaction models, messaging, and layers of aggregation.

Apps have effectively unbundled the web by proving that they’re better at solving specific use cases like messaging, transportation, social and more. Outside of taking share, mobile grows opportunities 10X (more users x in more places x new use cases).

Meanwhile, this nice home screen of bookmarks to verticalized tools has left us with a key problem: (for the most part) apps don’t talk to each other. By extension, this also creates a discovery issue; the only way to find new apps is to go to a walled garden and search for something you already know you want, or have Apple/Google tell you you want. As mobile eats the world one use case at a time (and at a breakneck pace), this unsolved opportunity grows. All the large players are making bets, with some moves sticking and some not:

Apple: rolled out app bundles and extensions with iOS8, allows shared data between apps through keychains, plus deep links between apps and in-app cross promotion.

Facebook: Their mobile ad business monetizes this problem effectively, but doesn’t solve it very well. They also launched a deep-link protocol and tried to push that to the whole ecosystem (but failed). They unbundled their mobile app around the same time, pulling out messenger and groups. Coincidence? Likely not.

Google: Pulling from B.E.’s post mentioned above: “It’s always been obvious that apps were a structural problem for Google, since their content is hidden from search and more importantly unlinkable from search results, paid or not. HTML5 ‘web apps’ turned out to be a blind alley for a range of reasons but the underling problem they addressed remains: on the web you can link to any arbitrary resource and on mobile you cannot — everything is inside silos.” They’ve since built up the stack into the cloud so data can be treated app-agnostically, but the problem remains largely unsolved.

So what? This problem shapes the landscape for mobile user acquisition and product line (bundling/un-bundling) strategy. We’ve taken some steps in the right direction, and 2015 will surely reveal more. I think it’s important to be aware of the newest tools we have that solve these problems in our own apps, and we should put some stock in the ecosystem to make things easier in 2015 as we make strategic bets for the future.

I’ll leave you with some favorites of mine:

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