Remember the time when there were no smartphones? Seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it? Most mobile apps we had were simple tools such as unit converters or games. Hardly an app for booking your railway or flight tickets nor did we have as efficient mobile versions of websites. Today, almost every service that caters to a large audience has a dedicated mobile app, a mobile version of its website, and a fully functional desktop version, then there are other standards creeping up on them such as Google’s AMP project.
Smartphone apps are here in a big way and they’re so much a part of our lives now that it is hard to imagine a future where there might not be an app for everything. From grocery shopping to payments at your local store, or booking a cab everything today has an app and if it doesn’t, it very soon will unless it wants to go out of business.
But for a future where all the our devices are expected to be interconnected and more or less be the same machine in different sizes and hardware combinations, having so many versions of something makes no sense, does it?
Problems with the app culture
Given all the problems the corporations or brands have in maintaining at least two apps if we leave the Windows mobile platform out of the equation (not surprised are you?), a website, and a mobile website, for the same service in order to reach potential customers it should be obvious that they probably don’t love the app culture as much as us users do.
Even when many of those apps are just the mobile versions of their website coded natively into Android or iOS framework, they need a lot of resources and a team of engineers to first create and then maintain the apps, and the only benefit they provide is that apps get to live front and center on a user’s phone, whereas mobile websites don’t, even though they can. Mainly because native apps provide a better experience to the user than a mobile website.
For most companies, such as Ola, Uber, Domino’s, these apps are all but an interface through which a user can interact with them. Going forward however, as our internet connections get faster, there probably will not be much of a performance difference between the mobile websites and a dedicated native app. Such companies and brands will be the first to promote their mobile websites over apps then, and perhaps also switch.
Then there is also the fact that since each app is different, every new app you download needs to be learned from the scratch (which probably is easy for some of us but is mind boggling for some). Not to mention all of them fight in for space and resources on your phone, which can show its effect if you don’t own something with flagship level specs.
Replacements for apps
Okay, so apps have some problems, but if not apps then what?
1. Super apps
You may not have noticed, and usually we try to stay away from such resource hungry, space eating apps that do a load of things instead of doing just one thing. Some good examples would be Tapzo, WeChat, UCBrowser. WeChat started out as a messenger app but today it is one of the most widely used Super apps in the world. On top of messaging, its a social media platform on its own, which even doubles as an online wallet, lets you book rides, flight tickets and yet more.
UC Browser as the name suggests, started out as just a web browser. But today, this web browser has (just off the top of my head) an inbuilt video player app, music player app, news app and some sort of a facebook app if you will. I happen to be one of those people that find this one rather annoying because I already have the facebook app, a music player and such and do not wish to switch.
But take a look at Tapzo, it lets you book rides, order food, read news, recharge your phone, and a lot of other services that otherwise you might have to download individual apps for which also means the companies behind these services need to make those apps. Here though, Tapzo is doing all the app development and maintenance for these companies which is a bonus for them. After all, all you need to book an Uber is an interface, it doesn’t matter who provides it to you.
With such super apps, things can possibly change at least for companies that just provide online services.
2. Chat bots
Chat bots, also like Super apps, are something you may not have noticed yet, but are a part of Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s Messenger. Both these companies are betting big and delving into the foggy world of artificial intelligence (AI) in order to have computer software programs called bots. These bots intend to take over sales and customer service functions.
Bots are in a way like the Google Assistant in Allo. Let’s say you’re chatting with Uber on Skype, you can just book your ride by chatting to them. Of course, it is again, just an interface and not exactly someone from Uber but that interface is all that’s needed in this case. In fact you can already book your flight tickets on Skype via bots and more, depending on the service you wish to use.
Bots are only just coming into existence and there’s already a lot you can do with them so it’s not hard to see how they could overtake apps in the future.
3. Virtual AI Assistants
This is probably the most advanced and well known of the three. Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, Alexa and yet more to come. These are essentially chat bots but better.
Unlike chat bots, these virtual assistants can do all those things such as booking tickets and paying bills but even identifying which song is being played or reminding you about birthdays and meetings without you having to open up different conversation threads.
All the major players in this field already do a lot of those things and the companies behind them are working to make them better at what they do and add more services by opening up the platforms to developers. All of them can search the web, Google Assistant can play videos on your chromecast, Alexa can shop for you and Cortana can even find discount coupons for you while you’re looking to buy something online.
These are all things you usually need a dedicated app for but one by one these assistants are making those apps pointless. The developers of these apps just have to feed data through APIs to these assistants rather than developing an entire application and maintaining it.
Of course, apps are not always about providing an interface for a service, there are apps that can’t be replaced such as games or professional photo or video editing apps and quite a lot other kind but these virtual assistants can possibly replace a lot of apps that currently sit on your phone eating away resources and space.
This should turn out well for both the consumers and the service providers and to some extent even for Operating Systems which suffer due to an app gap. Would you like a future where there’s not an app for everything?