Apps are dead. Or are they?

08 May 2017 ‐ 8 min read

No doubt about it, there has been a shift in the way people consume mobile apps, and how people view the process of building them. We believe this shift is the result of a culmination of behaviours, progressions and changes in the digital landscape. Let’s take a quick look at the app journey so far.

Where it all started for apps

Scroll back to June 2007 when Apple launched its very first iPhone. Apple created a world-first device that was sure to set the pace for competitors to follow. A major part of their strategy in becoming a dominant player in the mobile device market was the creation of the Apple App Store. Launched together with iOS software development kit, the app store made its first appearance on iPhone devices a year later, in July 2008.

The initial store offered around 500 apps ranging from sports games to classifieds. The world was captivated by this concept of creating software for mobile devices that was accessible almost instantly by iPhone users right across the world. The concept wasn’t new, but the quality of the apps, powered by a strong community of developers captivated the imagination of the modern world. As such it didn’t take long for stories to emerge of developers becoming millionaires overnight, and brands like Starbucks using apps to drive their business forward.

This was just the beginning. “App” was the buzzword on everyone’s lips, and in 2010, the word “app” was even named "Word of the Year" by the American Dialect Society. 

Where it all started for 4i

We built our first native iOS application in 2009, and over the years extended our capability to include native design and development for all the major platforms. In the midst of this initial frantic boom, it was clear to us that the craft of writing code was not enough to see an app through to success. So we invested in our team, adding product owners, strategists and a world class UX team to the mix. By working collaboratively with our developers, we were able to get to the core value for consumers in order to achieve success for our clients.

Fast forward to 2017

Away from all the craze and news headlines, there was a lot of failure too - often less spoken about. Many businesses jumped head first into building apps without understanding the complex process of what it takes to make them successful. Developers were hired for large sums of money to churn out code, for fear of brands and promising startups missing out. But writing code only forms one part of building a great mobile app.

The most bizarre reason for building an app that we ever heard was a large pharmaceutical chain that wanted an app within an extremely tight, near impossible deadline and when we asked why, their straight-faced answer was to give it to their CEO as a birthday gift. Needless to say, it’s years later and their app is still not on the store.

The downfall of apps

This behaviour driven by FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out’ has resulted in the app store of present day cluttered with millions of apps. Most of them - be it startups or branded apps, are of poor quality and add little to no value to our lives. The disappointment (albeit subconscious) of downloading an app only to experience how useless it is has created reluctance toward downloading apps. This change in behaviour has made it incredibly difficult for startups and branded apps to achieve desired downloads, which in turn, has made it harder for businesses to see the justification in the spend.

So yes, horrible apps have made it harder for great apps to get discovered. But the great news is, we believe we will start seeing less and less horrible apps as businesses come to realise that building an app that creates value requires a team of specialists, a lot of hard work, and costs more than most anticipate. We have found in every case, that apps where corners have been cut offer little to no reward, and end up in the store graveyard with all the other dead apps.

The rise of new technologies

There are however a number of technologies that have made significant inroads in recent years, resulting in greater adoption.

The web has progressed at a faster pace than native apps of late. In fact, web is closer than ever to achieving native app performance. In fact, a golden rule is that if you cannot find a reason why a concept should be an app over a well developed, mobile-optimised (responsive) website, it probably shouldn’t be an app.

KLM Royal Dutch airlines recently introduced a chat bot that passes on communication and documents to customers via Facebook Messenger, which, from personal experience I can say is significantly easier than downloading ANOTHER airline app. Then again, if I were a frequent flyer with KLM, downloading and using an app would probably have been a better experience. But a great way to look at this specific example is to onboard new customers with a streamlined Facebook messenger experience and then later converting them into app users where upselling and on selling can take place.

The next wave

It’s not all over for apps, though. I believe there is still enormous opportunity for the right kind of app. Really great apps that add value to consumers’ lives will be rewarded not only by downloads, but by usage as well. They will be easier to find and they will stand out in the crowd. All of which bodes well for the mobile app industry. Here are some examples.

1. Customer service apps

These apps are great for strengthening customer loyalty. The trick here is to understand the value, and simplify the UX to make it as easy as possible for your beloved fans to interact with your brand and in doing so, gain value. Examples include:

  • Health insurance service providers
  • Financial services providers
  • Retail loyalty: E.g. Checkers

2. Function-specific apps

These apps make daily tasks for consumers easier. Be it booking a ride, ordering food online or buying a ticket to an experience. Examples include:

  • Transport booking like Uber or taxify
  • Food ordering apps like OrderIn
  • Ticketing and events: E.g. Adventure Clubs

3. Games & Entertainment

These apps have always been the most popular on the app store and it’s likely to remain this way for the foreseeable future. Examples include:

  • Streaming and video services such as NetFlix or Youtube
  • Augmented reality and virtual reality
  • Any and all games and entertainment: E.g. BET.co.za

4. Communities

Although Facebook is the world’s largest social community, it’s not serving niche interests as well as they could be. This is by no means a dig at Facebook, it is just an incredibly complex task to make Facebook dynamic enough to cater for the nuances of specific niches. Examples of niche community apps include:

In Summary

The app scene is most definitely not dead - it has simply matured, and consumers have become ruthless in booting apps off their phones that don’t add value.

If you are keen to capitalise on the next wave of mobile apps, and work with a world class team that is experienced in building great mobile products get in touch at hello@4imobile.co.za.

by Renier Kriel, CEO

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