Want company for walking back home? There’s an app for that

24th Sep 2015
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Smartphones and mobile apps have transformed our lives in ways we seldom notice. Mobile applications have put the power of experts in every man’s pocket. A weather forecast app has replaced the weather man and an efficient calculation app has supplemented the accountant. From booking movie tickets to buying groceries, app developers have not left a single stone unturned. We have specialised applications to remind us to drink water, customised to our body type and sleep cycle. There is another app that enables us to disallow our own self from making calls to people after getting drunk on a Saturday night!

While these are great concepts and make unique use cases for different sets of people, entering the user lifecycle is a major challenge for all of them. According to a survey by Nuance (American software company), 95 per cent of apps are abandoned by users after download. The concern arises not just from the large number of apps available today, but also from the ecosystem they are in. Thus, to understand the challenge we need to first discern the app ecosystem.

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Before mobile apps became an inherent part of our life, web browsers played a pivotal role in diffusing all the information through the Internet. The open nature of web allowed us to access information anywhere, anytime, and at our convenience. With the influx of affordable smartphones, people began to access this information on their personal device. Information providers immediately realised the potential of this personal device and brought mobile responsive websites for users. Since web is an open ecosystem, people could buy, use or gather any kind of information on any device.

However, information on the open web was rather impersonal, as it was meant to serve everyone. Therefore, native mobile apps emerged to tackle the growing need for personalisation. And with this came the first challenge – reaching out to users. Being present on a common platform from where users can download the app, i.e. App Store, Google Play Store, Windows Store, is a mandate in the app ecosystem. To be available for most users, app developers have to be present on these leading channels and maintain three separate properties in contrast to one on the web.

Furthermore, each platform is packed with a plethora of apps. It is beyond the bounds of possibility for a user to be able to know of every application or even discover all apps that match their use cases. Apps have cluttered the market to the point that there now exists an app to understand a user’s utility and suggest more apps for him/her!

Even after users download an app, getting into their habits and reminding them to use the product is yet another challenge. Most people need specific information at one time or another. Users download what they need, use it and if they do not find a repeat use soon, uninstall it. Sometimes, even when they have the app on their phone, they forget to use it. Thus, a mobile phone with several icons - each leading to an independent destination - which need to be tapped on specifically for experience do not make much sense anymore.

To counter this problem, the idea of an app as an independent destination has to change. Apps need to become containers of content outside the native environment. Let’s look at an example to understand this. App notifications are containers of content with action items outside the app. For instance, Twitter notification allows one to see the tweet and provides action items to retweet, favourite or reply in the notification itself, without taking you to the native app. In such a scenario, the mobile device and the OS acts as an experience centre. All apps sit on the background and push content on this central piece.

The need of the hour is notification cards that enable full product experiences. Be it buying a product, checking a flight or booking a table at a restaurant, app developers need to enable these experiences outside the app. Obviously these notifications depend on the permissions given by the user and have to be extremely contextual. Apps will also need to be on a self-learning process and modify what they display according to user behaviour and interests.

The existing app ecosystem wrongly assumes that users live in silos. The new app paradigm will match real life much more closely. This new model will also solve a critical problem of navigation on apps. Users will not have to learn how to use each product separately as most of the functionality will be on one single screen.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming volume of notifications may appear as a new problem. A ranking or priority system, perhaps at the OS level, will be required to make things more manageable. Most important things will appear at the top, followed by others.

For businesses, this will solve the problem of app discoverability. Developers will not have to depend on App Store promotions and advertising to get discovered, as content will begin to appear in independent containers. In fact, there might not be a need to maintain an app at all. The content and actions could come directly from the web.

We are at the beginning of the phase of transition in mobile apps. Apps have begun anticipating consumer demand and are pushing appropriate content. The future will witness content, products and services discovering users, rather than users having to discover them. The next wave of consumer interaction is around the corner, waiting to be unleashed, which might give us an answer to the question – What will be the future of mobile and mobile apps? Will the app environment stay in its current form or will it undergo a complete metamorphosis and rise in a new avatar?

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory)

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