The End is Near for Mobile Apps — Part 2

On October 31, 2018, I published Part 1 of this story that led to 191,000 views and 88,000 reads within two weeks.

While I received a lot of fan mails, I also received some hate mails. One reader even offered to bet me $1,000 on how many native apps there’ll be in 3 years’ time.

The story got shared across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flipboard and many other sites and forums, in multiple languages. This spawned many splinter discussion threads on other platforms.

On Medium itself, as at the date of writing there were 100 responses. Many readers gave useful feedback on where my article fell short and inspired new thoughts and direction.

With so many discussion threads in so many places, I decided to write this follow-up piece to summarize the most common questions asked by the readers. They relate to:

  1. Why the clickbait title?
  2. Do push notifications and too many apps really slow the phone down?
  3. Has some of my predictions already came true?
  4. Who in the West are likely to become giant ‘App of apps’?
  5. What does the future hold beyond smartphones?
  6. How should app developers adapt and thrive?

Here goes…

Clickbait title

Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash

Yes, I confess. The title was clickbait.

The original title was “Mobile Apps will Disappear Soon”. I wanted to play on ‘disappear’ as a verb to convey my prediction that native apps will start to decline in numbers. I did not mean to say they will go extinct completely.

Guilty none the less…But…

When the Medium editors decided to feature the story, they changed it to “The End is Near for Mobile Apps”. I decided to go with their professional judgment.

Push notifications and app overload

A lot of readers pointed out that push notifications do not slow the phone down.

Again, partially my bad! Technically they are not wrong.

In my head I confused background processes with push notifications. The non-techie in me related one to the other because some apps with frequent push notifications like social media and instant messaging tend to occupy a lot of RAM.

In Android phones you can see this if you are geeky enough to open up the developer options and monitor the RAM usage by apps. For iPhones this is less of an issue due to the way the operating software is designed.

I wrote and published the original version of Part 1 in November 2016, based on my knowledge of Android phones when I was leading a startup team developing an app. Things have improved since, but your phone still slows down if you install too many apps.

Many articles support my view. Just google ‘do apps slow your phone down’. I shall quote from just one of the articles I found.

“You’ve probably installed more apps as you continue to use your device, some of which open at startup and run in the background. If you’ve installed a lot of apps that run in the background, they can consume CPU resources, fill up RAM, and slow down your device.”
 — “Why Android phones slow down over time, and how to speed them up

I rest my case.

China and India are leading in apps

In my article I pointed out that the inspiration for how native apps will evolve and become part of bigger apps and their ecosystems came from China.

One reader wrote to say the same thing is happening in India.

There are about 1.16 billion smartphone users in China and India. The world has about 2.53 billion smartphone users. This means that these two countries account for almost 46% of smartphone ownership in the world.

Although these two countries are considered developing economies, I’m betting that the native app ecosystem will evolve in similar ways since human nature is essentially, the same everywhere. Some readers argue structural differences, but at least in Southeast Asia where I’m from, I’m already seeing a lot of app based business models copying China’s lead.

This reader also mentioned Progressive Web Apps (PWA’s). Essentially these are hybrid apps that run on web browsers and can appear and behave like a native app. Alternatively, the aggregation of apps could be similar to how Wechat’s official accounts and mini-programs work.

Western world’s potential ‘App of apps’ giants

Another reader asked, who might be able to do such consolidation and integration of apps in Europe, USA, South America and Africa?

Well, I’m not entirely sure. In the western app ecosystem it seems that the only dominant apps present in almost all smartphones are the ones from Apple or Google. If they choose to get into the app game in a big way it could be them. After all, they already dominate mobile wallets with Apple Pay and Google Pay. Links to payment is essential for many apps to convert and monetize.

Social media or instant messaging is a second close possibility. Maybe Facebook will not do it under their core brand but acquire or start something else. After all, they’ve already bought Whatsapp and Instagram. Or it could be a e-commerce giant like Amazon, e-Bay or Paypal.

Alternatively, it might be a dominant ride-share app like Uber or Lyft. That is already happening in South-east Asia with Grab and Go-Jek. In the food & beverage industry, outlets are consolidating into delivery apps like Foodpanda and reservation services like Chope.

Beyond smartphones and mobile apps

And since we are crystal ball gazing, let’s look even further out (but not too far…)

My own bet is within the next decade an assortment of standard wearables will complement or even replace the smartphones we carry now.

I doubt, though, that smart glasses will become commonplace. Not everyone likes having to wear something on their face all the time. Otherwise contact lenses would not have became so popular.

It is likely that smart watches will be combined with something more sleek and compact; perhaps a multi-purpose earpiece. Eventually physical screens might evolve into air screens which will be projected only when we need it.

By then gesture and voice control should already be the norm, and devices will talk to us with synthesized speech. Image recognition will become so good our wearables will constantly feed us information and guidance on the physical environment and people around us.

If touch-based user interfaces survive, it’ll probably look like this…

Picture from Microsoft

How should app developers adapt and thrive?

In the near term, developers will increasingly persuade corporate clients to use hybrid apps and mobile responsive sites instead of native apps.

For those chasing the startup dream with native apps, they will gravitate towards utility, game or Internet of Things (IoT) apps. Also, their skill sets and imagination will need to rise to incorporate natural language processing (NLP) and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) into their apps, as well as integration with other IoT devices, in order to deliver the kind of user experiences (UX) that consumers will come to expect.

User Interface (UI) design will also need to evolve since multiple wearables, AR/VR functions, and eventually, air screens will result in a multitude of screen sizes and interaction methods for users within one app.

Oh, and not forgetting, some form of AI is going to be the norm for all apps very soon. This will affect both the technical and aesthetic aspects of designing an app. App content and user journeys will become dynamic rather than fixed (see Part 3 of this story). Content and commands will predict the users’ needs just like how predictive text input has become a standard feature. Therefore, dev shops and talents will all need to adapt and upskill.

The End is Near for Mobile Apps — Part 1


Writing is my lifelong passion and my way of organizing thoughts. I also hope to create meaningful discourse in society based on reliable information. So feel free to leave me a response and contribute your knowledge and opinion. I will try my best to reply. However, if it is a business connection you seek, please do so on LinkedIn.