Why 2018 is the beginning of the end for Mobile Apps

There’s an app for that.” — but for how much longer?

Dan Cotton
Mar 5, 2018 · 6 min read
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

We’re rapidly approaching the 10th birthday of the Mobile App as it exists today. In Summer 2008, the two giants in the mobile space launched their respective mobile app stores, since which time, the mobile app has dominated the digital priorities of organisations and been key to customer engagement. Over the past 10 years both app stores have seen exponential growth in both volume of user installs and application numbers on each store. None of which is any real surprise as Mobile Apps have offered a fast, convenient, tailored experience allowing interaction with a brand or organisation whilst on-the-go.

Mobile Apps have remained largely unchallenged on mobile over the last 10 years, with reasonably high conversion rates for e-commerce and ~90% of users time on mobile being spent within mobile apps (only ~10% of US usage being web browsing). So, what contenders does 2018 bring to the table? Well… Nothing new.

The first contender

The first major contender is the mobile web. Yes, the same web that I just said currently only takes up around 10% of users time on mobile. So why do I say this? Firstly, I’d like to break down that statistic, as whilst it’s true that a disproportionate amount of time is spent in mobile apps when compared to browsing the web, it’s important to think about which apps are being used. A study by e-marketer speaks of how every day in 2017, on average a mobile user spent 50 minutes on the web, versus 3hrs and 23 minutes in mobile apps. It’s important to put this into context though, as MediaKix reports we spend on average 1 hour, 56 minutes a day in the top five social apps alone — bringing the actual usage for everyone else to a much fairer split between Web and Mobile Apps (50 minutes vs 1hr 27 minutes).

The web is also a capable medium, there’s no longer a disparate gap between the performance and functionality of a Web App and a Mobile App. The web is now capable of functioning offline, presenting a full-screen (out of browser) experience, delivering push notifications, handling camera and microphone input, geolocation and much more. These technologies all come together in a package, to form a Progressive Web App (PWA). A PWA is defined as a Web experience that leverages a collection of modern web technologies to perform with UX similar to that of a mobile app. Sadly, Apple still doesn’t support all of the features of a PWA on iOS, however this is coming imminently in iOS 11.3.

75% increase in Tweet volume via Twitter Lite (Twitter’s PWA)

In addition, the Web has a number of key advantages that line up with the shortfalls of mobile apps. Key to this is the discoverable capability of the Web, searches are deep searches. Rather than simply searching for a brand, like you would for an app on the App Store, search engines on the web allow your content to be searched, allowing brand discovery to users who are looking for content like yours, no matter their awareness of your brand.

In addition to discoverability, the web has the advantage of being totally frictionless. There’s no need to install anything to interact with a particular brand, be it on mobile or desktop. A study by Google on user interaction with forced app installs showed that the friction in the process of installing a mobile app caused 69% of visits to be abandoned. Users are already discovering your website, why add in extra hurdles for them to reach the content they want, when the platform they’re using to find you is more than capable.

Building a PWA could also help reduce development cost and complexity. Why should we build two (or more) clones of the same experience, dealing with differences in implementations across iOS, Android and Web implementations? A PWA allows you to consolidate your codebase and digital presence, in turn reducing the amount of work required to maintain and continue to develop that digital presence. A PWA is built to cross the boundaries that mobile platforms impose.

There’s quite strong evidence from brands that have taken the plunge that the introduction of a PWA can lead to success. PWAStats.com is dedicated to highlighting both the UX and Business benefits of considering a modern Progressive Web App as an alternative to the traditional Mobile App. For example, FlipKart’s PWA is driving 50% of their new customer acquisition and 60% of the users of the PWA had previously uninstalled the mobile app to free up space on their device. In addition a PWA test by Forbes lead to a 2x increase in average user session duration. Twitter Lite offers an excellent user experience and has also shown a 75% increase in number of tweets when visiting on the web.

Language is the new touch

So, the web is a serious contender. However, there’s another newcomer that brings an entirely new approach to customer engagement. Chatbot type interfaces are gaining more and more traction in defining how we interact digitally with brands. Between 2017 and 2018 the proportion of the population that own a dedicated voice assistant device such as a Google Home or Amazon Echo tripled and 37% of the US population intend to own such a device by the end of 2018.

Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

If we mentioned earlier that for the 4 hours or so a day we spend on our smartphones, 2 hours of that is in the top five social apps, why are we not leveraging this as a means of driving key brand interactions such as commerce? Many organisations use social media for customer service, however many customers wish to do more. 37% of consumers would rather buy items via a company’s Facebook page than their website. (HubSpot, 2017).

The use of conversational interfaces is only going to grow as, whilst sharing the benefits of discovery and personalisation that the web and mobile apps offer, it also goes beyond our traditional idea of customer engagement. Conversational interaction humanises organisations in a way that other mediums can only dream, enabling an entire new way of customers perceiving relationships with brands. The management of this conversational relationship is extremely important and over the coming year more organisations must focus on changing their design questions from simply “How does my brand look?” to “How does my brand sound?”.

So, everything will change?

Well… Yes and no. Mobile apps will of course still exist, but I think the priorities for organisations are changing. No longer is a mobile app the key to your digital presence. The modern web offers much of the same functionality in a much more compelling package for your users, whilst also offering much more in terms of brand discovery. In addition, the rise of conversational interfaces is demonstrating the desire of users to interact with organisations on a much more human and social level, offering completely different opportunities for conveying your brand to your customers. For organisations, the winners will be those that are quickest to leverage these new opportunities to better engage with their customers.

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