In the 1990s, everyone wanted to have a website, it was the in-thing, it was “cool”. From 2013 upwards, every company and service wanted to have an app, as that was the new trend. Apps (or lack thereof) have been the major contributor to the downfall of Windows Mobile, Firefox OS and Blackberry OS.
Here’s why I am saying so, developers won’t build apps if your platform has no user and users will not use your platform if there are no apps. There’s no end to this, well, apart from the platform dying.
People want to use apps because they seem to make things easier but that is not entirely the case. Apps are cumbersome, both to users and developers. Developers have to learn the different programming languages for each platform respectively, and even with hybrid apps (those that work on multiple platforms), there’s still a learning curve to it.
Developers also have to support the apps, and ensure that their apps look good, which is something you can only get when developing apps natively. So, for a developer or company to stay relative with their app, they have to support at least two apps, for android and iOS.
Users, on the other hand, have to look for the apps, install them and learn to use them. This is the reason instant messaging apps such as Telegram, which are arguably better than WhatsApp, are not experiencing the same exponential growth as WhatsApp is. People are already familiar with how WhatsApp works and it has no problem, for this reason they will not switch to Telegram.
So, if apps are “bad”, what should developers focus on? The answer is APIs. Let me explain.
There’s a new breed of applications that are cropping up known as super apps. Apps like WeChat and to some extent Facebook, offer more than what they initially set out to offer. WeChat has grown from an instant messaging app to the world’s most used super app.
WeChat lets people send instant messages, post about personal events, order a taxi , buying movie tickets, sending payments and settling utility bills as well as online shopping. WeChat has added a range of business-oriented features onto the app over the years. Office workers can apply for leave, file for reimbursement and track project progress through WeChat’s enterprise accounts. Beijing Institute of Technology allows its students and professors to check performance and pay school fees through its account, according to the website of WeChat enterprise account.
For most companies, such as Uber, apps are all but an interface through which a user can interact with them. Therefore, they do not need to invest in an app, all they need to do is develop an API that can feed information to super apps. Aside from super apps, we also have virtual assistants that seem to be rendering apps redundant. You can already hail a taxi through Cortana, so Uber does not need to have an app anymore.
Chat bots are also sprouting really fast. Facebook Messenger, Telegram already support bots and soon WhatsApp will too. Chat bots have made life easier. It is so easy, that you can now use M-Pesa (send money and buy airtime) through a bot, without leaving Facebook Messenger. WeChat has grown to what it is thanks to bots, so you can imagine the potential of bots on a platform like WhatsApp.
Imagine being able to order for clothes directly from Instagram when your favourite shop posts an image, without having to DM them or get their number and chat on another platform. I would personally love to buy movie tickets through WhatsApp, or check my grades through WhatsApp, and all that is only possible through bots.
Developers listen up, I am not saying that you should not develop apps, but think of it this way, how many more people would you reach through a Facebook bot as opposed to building your own user base for your app? Users don’t care whether you have an app or not, they care on how easy it is for them to get access to your service.
Soon and very soon, apps will not matter and we will rely on Virtual Assistants, super apps and chat bots.