App Reviews

Simplicity, Unbundling, yo, and all that

Over the past week or so, an app called Yo has been making the news because given its “stupidity”, it has managed to raise $1.2m. All it does is allow you to send a “cx” to a friend. Its like Facebook Poke, but even dumber. The app has no icon and only one screen. It was created as a side project by a few folks working on an existing app start up. Noted tech analyst Robert Scoble has described Yo as ”the stupidest, most addictive app I’ve ever seen in my life”. The makers claim the engagement metrics on it are unlike anything they’ve seen before, and they could have raised even more money than what was offered to them. Still sound stupid?

Without going into whether Yo actually offers a legitimate value proposition, it represents a growing trend seen in the past 12 months: a mobile app is meant to do only one thing. Facebook started the process of “unbundling”, splitting up functions of the service into different apps with Messenger and Paper, and then of course they also own WhatsApp and Instagram. Foursquare followed soon launching Swarm to enable discovery, and last week Path split its messenger service into Path Talk. And then just yesterday Marc Andreessen went on one of his Twitter rants talking about the history of unbundling.

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Anyway, whichever way you look at it, the way mobile apps are being used has changed, or rather, matured to suit the form factor. Back in 2010, the idea was to put as much functionality in one app with the assumption that the inertia to download multiple apps was too high. It was the desktop web approach. While the general problem of getting people to download apps has only gotten harder (app discovery challenges and all that), the 4” screen means you can only have limited functionality on it without compromising user experience. Over time, users have gotten used to going back to an app to complete the one key essential task that it merits. Apps are now being used more as “applets”, especially how they are interfacing with the rest of the ecosystem:

  • With the OS: The iOS 8 notification center and extensions will enable you to complete tasks without even going inside an app. This, of course, already exists on Android, and I’m sure the L release will take it to the next level.
  • With Other Apps: App to app linking is gradually becoming common practice, especially among services that are unbundled. A classic example is the Facebook app, and how clicking on the messenger icon now takes you to the Messenger app instead of opening the message inbox right there.
  • With the Web: Google App Indexing is the first step in getting the web and app world to talk to each other. You search for something, and along with web link results, you get shown app link results. Clicking on one of those takes you inside that app to the particular content you were looking for.

What does all this mean for app developers? I think Benedict Evans articulates it well in this post a couple of months back: In mobile, everything is still wide open. There are still so many mobile first problems to solve, more so in emerging markets like India. Idea should be to keep it simple, integrate it deep within the existing ecosystem, and solve one core problem that makes users come back again and again.

About the Author :

Aakrit Vaish is a technology entrepreneur and investor, currently CEO at Haptik, a company in the mobile customer support. Aakrit is also the co-founder and investor at Before, he was an early hire at Flurry where he founded the business operations team and was instrumental in growing the company from a start up to a multi-million dollar business.

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