The app is dead. Long live the app.

How often do you use apps? You probably open a handful on a daily or even hourly basis. You probably ignore the rest.   

You’re not alone - Gartner research shows that users from the US, UK and China used just six to 10 apps each month in 2016. This represents a 6% year-on-year decrease and has led Gartner to declare the ‘post-app era’.   

The fast rise and even faster fall of traditional ‘apps’ has been brutal. Facebook has a vice-like grip on users, with WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook dominating the app ecosystem. Both Apple’s App Store and Google Play offered over two million apps at the end of 2016. It’s an incredibly crowded market with very few winners.   

For those who have spent time and money developing and promoting apps, this could be a worrying development. But it shouldn’t be. 

Apps are changing, and how companies offer up products and services are changing with it. Apps aren’t dead - in fact the ‘post-app era’ moniker is probably not helpful. We will always have apps in some form, but will we keep the walled garden of content that lives behind a cutesy icon on your mobile homescreen? I’m afraid the answer is increasingly no.   

The birth of bots, IOT, Augmented Reality and wearables is redefining how customers interact with brands and services, and the app industry needs to recognise this and adapt.   

So how can your businesses prepare for the post-app era? 

Rethinking what success looks like   

For a start we need to rethink how we measure the success of applications on mobile or any other device. Rather than trying to keep users in apps and measure success based on the time spent using them, companies need to realise that this is far from what consumers want. Users are increasingly looking for an experience that is as friction-free as possible, and having to repeatedly open and close different apps can seem like a chore.   

If your analytics show that users are giving up on your app, don’t despair.   

It may seem like a contradiction in terms, but more people will use your apps when they don’t need to physically open them. Working out when and how users want your content and services and then offering it via push notifications or within other apps (more on this later), will mean you can reach your users at the most opportune time.   

Building an Ecosystem 

Which brings us neatly to my next point. If users aren’t opening apps, then how do we make sure they don’t drift away to a competitor?   

As a business you have to ask yourself the tough questions. Would your users benefit if your platform also integrated with associated businesses and services? At which point do they drop off to use other apps and services? Would their experience be more compelling and seamless if your app communicated with other apps and technology?   

Many a startup founder has dreamed of users opening their app the minute they wake up to excitedly consume content. But if you’re not one of the big five or six apps, this is unlikely. There are millions and millions of apps out there. Unless you have a marketing budget the size of Nintendo, you’re playing a losing game.   

So the solution may well lie in integrating the apps that are used, meaning users can interact with your products and services directly from their favourite app.   

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. 

The age of bots 

2016 saw the birth of the bot and, recognising the ubiquity of a select few messaging applications, companies rushed out chat integrations with the likes of Facebook Messenger, Skype or WeChat. It felt like the chat bot might be the solution to the post-app crisis.   

But they ran into problems. Rudimental and frustrating, chat bots fell out of favour quicker than you could say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question’.  

But there’s life in the old bot yet. Chatbots may have arrived somewhat prematurely but they’re getting better, and it’s likely that 2017 will see a raft of more intelligent and easier to use applications.    

Particularly for B2B players, chatbots may well become increasingly useful as businesses look to use next-generation platforms like Slack as the gateway to all other business software.   

The rise of ‘chatops’, ostensibly a developer’s term for using chatbots to help perfect code, will likely spread into the non-tech world, with Slack integrations for Google Drive and other business tools already ubiquitous. For business users that live in Slack, it’s far easier to allow customers to type a simple command to a chatbot than force them to open another app.  

At Xpenditure, we’ve realised that a lot of our users and their teams are on Slack. So rather than forcing our users to always open our app to submit, approve and reject expenses, we’ve integrated with Slack to make their lives much easier. User experience is all that matters to us. So as the app game changes, we’re changing with it. And integrations like Slack are just the beginning.   

From a B2C perspective, voice looks like the future of consumer interaction with apps. Amazon Alexa, Google Home and, to a lesser extent, Siri and Cortana have taken an early and decisive lead. Astonishingly, Google has said that 20% of Android searches already use voice. 

Amazon’s ‘skills’ stand apart, allowing companies to integrate their offering with Alexa’s interface. There are already hundreds of thousands of skills on Amazon’s platform, and the opportunity is vast. 

Perhaps one of the cleverest applications of the technology comes from Uber. Users only need to ask for a car and Alexa will order one to your home.   

It feels both incredibly easy and mind-blowingly futuristic. It means you have no interaction with the Uber app, no concern about making sure the pin is accurate and you can shout out the command while simultaneously getting ready to leave the house.   

Once you’ve ordered an Uber via voice, using the app seems cumbersome and outdated. 

So, far from a ‘post-app era’, applications are alive and well, but in a different form. They’re cloud based, built around AI and integrated with the core apps that users love and live in. It won’t be long before ‘please open our app’ follows in the footsteps of floppy disks and CDs.   

Companies need to prepare for this future and get ahead. Apps have, for some time, had a kind of mythical hold over companies. Having an app was a signifier of being in touch with technology, but it’s time for a rethink.   

People are creatures of habit, and apps were originally designed to make people’s lives easier. The rise of chatbots, voice interaction and other technologies means that the concept of a truly seamless experience is possible for the first time.   

They were built to symbolise the pinnacle of user experience, but it feels like the concept of an ‘app’ still has awfully long way to go’. 

Boris Bogaert, CEO and Co-founder at Xpenditure 

Image Credit: Jeshoots / Pixabay