Narrative: Apps Are Dying
Each narrative page (like this) has a page describing and evaluating the narrative, followed by all the posts on the site tagged with that narrative. Scroll down beyond the introduction to see the posts.
Narrative: Apps Are Dying (Jan 24, 2017)
Written: January 24, 2017
This narrative was the subject of the weekly narrative deep-dive video on March 30, 2017. You can see the video here on YouTube, and it’s also embedded below.
The last couple of years have seen a rise in claims that the mobile app model which has defined the modern smartphone era that began in 2007/8 is somehow on the way out. The specifics of the narrative vary from one version of the story to another – some posit that the web will win out, while others suggest that bots, messaging apps, or some other model is going to win out instead.
The reality is that the app model has never been bigger or in better health than today – figures for 2016 show massive growth over 2015 in both apps downloaded and the associated revenue, and neither number shows any sign of slowing down. The reality is that many of those pushing the death of apps story have an agenda of some kind – some, like Facebook and Microsoft – missed out on becoming app platforms and so wish to set themselves up as the creators of what’s next, such as bots. Others see apps as a threat to their business model, and would prefer to see the web regain the upper hand – see Google. Still others are merely looking for reasons why Apple’s dominance of the app model in revenue terms might come to an end.
The true picture is more complex – apps certainly aren’t dying, but they are evolving. Apps are becoming more sophisticated things – think back to the launch of the App Store in 2008, when the entire functionality of the app was contained behind the little rounded rectangle. Today, iOS apps alone have interactive notifications; widgets in the notification shade; Quick Actions enabled through 3D Touch; Siri, Maps, and iMessage extensions; share sheets and much more besides. Apps are already infinitely richer than they were, but it’s still the app model that dominates. Even bots have to live somewhere, and they typically do so within apps, whether that’s Facebook Messenger, Google’s Allo, or Skype. Games in particular are virtually immune to replacement with anything but more apps – the business models around in-app purchases which now dominate are so integral to the app model that it’s hard to see how they could be replaced.
Apps will, of course, continue to evolve, appearing on new devices like televisions and TV boxes, wearables, and more; increasing their ability to interact with other apps, with automation, and with real world objects like smart home gear; and taking advantage of new user inputs and outputs as well as increasingly sophisticated sensors. But apps certainly aren’t going to die anytime soon. Yes, bots may replace some apps for some specific tasks, but they can never replace all the things apps do for us today (and of course will live within apps even where they do). Voice interactions will similarly mostly give us just another way to interact with the same services for which we use apps when voice isn’t an appropriate or effective medium. Apps, meanwhile, are here to stay, and will likely continue to grow in both downloads and revenues for quite some time to come.
Kids’ Anonymous Feedback App TBH Hits #1 on App Store (Sep 25, 2017)
The hottest new app on the iOS App Store isn’t an augmented reality game enabled by iOS 11, but a new social app aimed at older school kids called TBH (styled tbh). What sets the app apart from pretty much every other social app aimed at kids is its limits, which prevent it from being used for bullying or other nastiness and instead focuses it on positive anonymous messages. In a world where pretty much every new platform eventually gets used for bullying and trolling, this one is admirable for its focus on positivity, something that shines through pretty clearly in the reviews on the App Store. At the same time, it clearly taps into every tween and teen’s desire to talk about friends with other friends in quasi-anonymous ways. The full article from TechCrunch which I’ve linked to below is worth a read fro the other details, but if nothing else the app’s success is admirable for its focus on trying to be a force for good in a world where so little else is. But it’s also notable for being yet another example of an app that’s launched on iOS first (with Android supposedly in the works), that’s thrived on limitations, and which has – like Facebook – taken a slow and steady approach to rolling out (I downloaded the app to try it out but it’s only available in certain states and mine isn’t one of them). The next big challenge, of course, is monetization – something that might be tough among the 12-18 crowd this seems firmly aimed at.
Twitter is Testing a Native Lite App in the Philippines (Sep 25, 2017)
Twitter launched Twitter Lite as a progressive web app in April with a view to providing a better option for emerging markets users relative to its native app. In writing about that news, I said that Twitter’s PWA was nice validation for Google’s push of these web apps, but that validation takes a bit of a knock from the fact that Twitter is reportedly testing a native app version of Twitter Lite in the Philippines. There’s no guarantee it gets launched broadly, but it would be further evidence that, for all Google’s eagerness to promote web apps alongside (or even instead of) native apps, the latter still dominate usage and the channels major companies still use to make their services available. I also said in that original piece that Twitter could benefit from the same kinds of benefits as Facebook by pursuing a Lite strategy, but although a Twitter product exec said a while back that Lite was driving big growth in India, the company’s Q2 results showed basically no evidence of that growth. One of Twitter’s biggest problems globally continues to be its inability to create a value proposition that appeals to new users, and whereas Facebook’s Lite app accelerated what was already very strong growth, Twitter’s app can’t solve that fundamental issue.