There is an app for that
I just don’t need it
Wake up it’s 2007
The iPhone 1 has just been released. All the major manufacturers have tried making phones that can connect to the internet, take great picture or be as stylish or luxurious as possible. Apple juste made it better. A bigger and better screen, a better experience and those apps…
Wait, no, there wasn’t any app at the time nor an app store. It was just a phone, a web browser, a mail app and some other Apple apps. It was not designed to host an app store.
The iPhone wasn’t designed to host an app store
Fortunately, all these white hat hackers jailbroke the iPhone and unleashed the beast: they made apps. Then Apple released an official SDK and everybody has started releasing apps since then. Apple eventually used this as one of its main selling point.
But do we really need them anymore?
Time has changed and devices have changed as well. We can now enjoy big screens with HD definitions. Smartphones are also much more powerful than they used to be. So apps should be better and our global experience should be even more, shouldn’t it?
But the main revolution we’ve gone through isn’t the evolution of the smartphones, it’s a data revolution. Or more exactly how data has become easily accessible and how companies like the GAFA’s can leverage it.
There is nothing new about data. We’ve been crunching them for ages. After all, computers are made for that. What is new is that data is now horizontal and user centric. Along with data, Artificial Intelligence has seen tremendous progress these past years and has gone mainstream most recetnly in these last month (M by Facebook, TensorFlow from Google). Combining data and AI can give real insights about what are the user preferences, what he’s done, what he enjoyed… and predict what his next move will be.
Technology is a commodity
Technology should be invisible and seamless (you can watch this great talk by Rand Hindi or read this article by Aaron Shapiro if you don’t believe me). I don’t want to download an app, create an account, log in and do something on an app. I just want to be provided with the right info, at the right moment.
Interactions need to be smarter and simpler, integrating into threads we already use. The technology should work under the hood quietly, seamlessly.
Facebook Messenger has taken a major leap forward allowing businesses to interact directly into its app. This trend has already emerged (for exemple Uber has integrated its service into Messenger or other apps) and is only going to grow.The whole dating experience could be refactored into a thread where you seek for date, request an uber, book a restaurant, order flowers.
When interactions are just going through the app, you may not need an app
You can already see an underlying pattern in this approach. When interactions are just happening through the app, you may not necessarily need an app. After all we’ve been able to buy plane tickets way before the internet and buying them online is just another way to do it, not a de facto standard.
So, should I build this app
First, just a little bit of context. Retention is a massive pain as apps tend to lose 77% of their users within the first three days. That means that three out of four people will download your app, try it then forget it.
Here is my little take on this question with my very own matrix.
If your app is designed to be used a lot (at least once a day) with interactions that are mostly within an app (messaging, sharing) you could definitively go and make an app and make it your solely product. Typically, these apps are messaging apps, social apps or productivity apps where the competition is utterly fierce.
More interestingly, there are two type of apps that, in my opinion, could easily switch from full fledged apps to platforms integrations. These apps are the apps you use to access services that take place in real life. Products like Airbnb, Uber or Captain Train are perfect examples. You use these apps to do things in which the result happen in your very real life: book a flat, a train ticket or a ride home. Considering this, we can state that those apps are only playing the role of an entry door to the service. When these apps were launched, apps were hip and were a great leap toward usability as people where moving from using their laptops to their phones. These apps can leverage new way of interactions.
For example you could get a Uber following this flow: text your location and destination to Uber, get a fare quote, accept it, get notified until the uber has arrived. You could still use the apps if you want to have a look at your history or do more advanced actions.
Send a text, interact with the service, get notified
For Airbnb this could be the same. Send your request on facebook messenger. Receive 5 to 10 matches, view them in the app, book them in the app, get notified and handle your booking through messenger.
Smart bots, smart notifications, meaningful use of the app
Finally, if your app will be used very very rarely but is designed to provide many interactions within it, you may have a problem.
The shift is already happening
Quartz has just unveiled their new app for browsing news, and they’ve just nailed it.
It’s just everything an app should be in 2016. Leveraging our thrill to send messages and to communicate one-to-one; using basic calls to action like “next” or semantically formatted messages which allow for a really easy understanding of the app workflow and no learning curve. Thus, the app allows the user to be much more centered on a specific piece of news create a real interaction with the app.
Apps are not THE thing anymore, they’re more like a path from your user to your resources.
This approach is a key difference between Quartz and other news apps which share more or less all the same newsfeed design. Using a familiar interaction pattern and design to provide top notch content is a great way to turn users into news addicts.
Abstract your idea, connect the dots
It is common that we mix up the ends with the means. You want to connect people and lot of apps do that so you need an app. But, is it really a good idea to copy old patterns or is there any room left for innovation?
As I wrote earlier, apps are just an entry point but not necessarily the best entry point for what you’re doing. If you can deliver the same service by integrating it within an already mature platform and create a killing experience, go with it.
Finally, allowing an easier interaction between users and a service without an app might add some extra work and require one to be a little smarter about how to use technologies and which platforms integrate.
Remember, it’s not about how you do it, but, why you do it.