A world without apps

Companies have spent millions building apps, and then billions (?) trying to get people to download them. The future however, is without apps. It's taking two divergent paths for now, which meet sometime in the near future. 

  1. Each of an app's most important functions have to be baked into workflows of other, more popular apps. The same way you get to order an Uber inside Google Maps, or get directions to the cinema hall in the ticket booking app. Context becomes important than the need. There is a reason Google wants you to speak to its assistant to get everything done, or Alexa wants to be your gateway to everything. As technology flattens our interaction with the world (than continue to hold it in verticals of different needs), apps become 'micro services' in our interaction with the world. You and I don't need another twenty apps to get things done. Soon, customers will prefer firms who get things done without exhorting them to download an app sign up, and then get work done. Marketers want to build walled gardens, but for a user, it's all friction.
  2. The phone becomes an app browser than an app folder. Look at the action in this space already- app streaming, progressive web apps, notification shade actions, a richer control center in iOS, investments in great mobile UX from a site perspective than an app, launching 'lite' apps in developing countries and then taking them global. All these actions are flattening the world into- a future without apps.

Together, these trends will change how the world sees a smartphone. When you pick your phone up for reasons other than boredom or addiction, you want to get things done as quickly as possible.

What does this mean for you as a B2C marketer? Three things:

  • If you are still spending on promoting your apps, consider changing your budget allocations. Your runway on the 'apps are great to create a moat' strategy is very limited. Changing direction on this now means you'll help your business, strategically and operationally, than just create new ads for promoting something no one would use by the end of 2018.
  • Step up on partnerships, affiliate deals and playing second fiddle to platform apps, so you become the partner of choice. And before you say "how dare you ask me to play second fiddle", remember Uber, the goliath, had to give up China for one very specific reason- its main competitor Didi Chuxing tying up with WeChat to offer in-platform cab ordering changed the UX for customers, and customers clearly preferred it, among other reasons.
  • Every competitive advantage you've built by stating DAU, MAU and ARPU are going to crumble as the advantage with app installs vanishing. It means investing into the classics again- search, SEO and their brethren. Try to build advantages in voice search, contextual actions on your site and following the path Google wants you to. I say Google because if you don't, your business will be subsumed by Amazon sooner than you think. In the future, more people will search Amazon when they want to buy something than Google. And because Amazon tends to start selling everything themselves, Google is your only hope. This may sound alarmist but the stars are aligning.

As a B2b marketer, if you are building, or have an app for any reason, please consider stopping investments in it now. Those 2,000 people who downloaded it and rarely come back, they never will. For all the reasons above, and because people don't want to interact with a B2b company on an app- unless your app is the only way they can get service. Build the best mobile website you can, and see instant results.

It would give me great satisfaction if you went along this article thinking 'Tell me something new'. If not, I hope it is good intellectual fodder as you plan for the future. If you've had recent success using some of these ideas already, I look forward to your thoughtful comments here, or on twitter at @ironymeter.

Note: The views in this post are my personal opinion and do not reflect those of my employer.

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