Apps Aren't Dying, They Just May Become Invisible
Often what you can’t see is more important than what you can.
As technology continues to improve and change, the way we interact with information and content changes with it. For many the smartphone has become the primary vehicle for on-the-go communication and utility. The mobile app has been a crucial part of this fabric.
Yet the demise of the mobile app has become a popular prediction, based on how the concept of mobility continues to dramatically shift away from a single device to a fully-connected lifestyle. If we’re less tethered to a single device to stay connected, do we need apps? Does the time it takes to download, open and sift through an app not run counter to the idea of seamless connectivity? But Calvin Carter, CEO of Bottle Rocket, believes mobile apps have a future because they exhibit the chief trait of any tool that has long-term viability.
“People think there’s a past to apps, and a future to apps. So they wonder when the app dies,” Carter says. “Why would something that is so unbelievably adaptable ever die?”
Mobile apps have already proven their ability to adapt, whether that’s to changes to the technology driving mobility (networks, software) or user behavior. What we think of today as an app has a long history, one that goes back even before the launch of the smartphone. Before Candy Crush there was Snake, the addicting game available on early Nokia cellphones. While it came preloaded on the phone, Snake was still software that lived on a mobile device and could provide utility (in this case, addicting entertainment) anywhere, on the go. The same can be said for the programs on the Palm Pilot and the games that came built into first edition iPods.
The game, of course, changed with the iPhone. Apps became more than just a game or tool that came preloaded on your device. Instead, they could be chosen by the consumer a la carte to fit individual needs. It opened an entire new world for developers, who soon were creating apps that met any user need or desire.
In the intervening years, we’ve seen improvements like the advent of HTML 5, something Carter says many thought would kill the app. But because mobile apps have the ability to change with the times, a shift like HTML 5 only improved mobile apps. It increased competition, which often helps point to what can be improved, and that led to many native mobile apps becoming better as different tech avenues came along. Something like the rise of HTML 5 and its rivalry of sorts with native mobile apps is merely representative of how today’s world works.
“Connected lifestyles are not either/or,” Carter says. “We live in an ‘and’ world. I have a smartphone, a watch, and a tablet that all perform similar tasks. I have five or six devices I can watch TV on.”
Carter envisions a future where this “and” world persists, where mobile apps work side-by-side with progressive web apps, instant apps, bots, and more. We use many technologies that seemingly would render a previous version useless, but that’s not generally how things work out in practice. Carter points out that mobile apps could have rendered the traditional website useless, but websites persist. Similarly, Slack may have become the preferred group communication tool for many teams, but those folks still use email, too. These applications and programs exist side by side, providing value in slightly different ways and for certain specific situations.
Apps today are stronger and more powerful than they’ve ever been, and they’re constantly evolving to go along with the changes to devices and their software. There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue to happen, and that mobile apps won’t continue to provide utility alongside other technologies that might come along. We already see mobile apps that have added functionality to respond to iOS’s 3-D Touch feature, where users can complete tasks without ever having to truly open the app itself. This will only improve, and we’ll be able to do more—and more complex—tasks from our home screens or from within other apps or platforms.
Carter imagines a scenario where apps use other apps to be more useful. For instance, users could pull up a map to locate where they want to go, which can then scan all ride-sharing services available in the area to find the quickest and cheapest option. Apps continue to power the experience, but they do so in a behind-the-scenes fashion. “Did you have an app experience?” Carter asks. “Not a traditional one. But a new experience was made possible through an app because apps continue to adapt and change.”
What we see is brought to us by what can’t be seen. The future of mobility will be less and less tied to our physical mobile devices. These devices will likely still be a core principle of what we consider mobility, but we’re slowly entering a more connected world where our experiences on the go, in our cars, and at home will more closely mirror each other. The show we watch on our mobile device on the train home will pick up seamlessly on our TV when we get home—a home which is set at the perfect temperature, the oven just beginning to pre-heat, simply because our appliances knew we were arriving home. If that future comes to fruition, it will be an amazing feat of technology. But behind the scenes, doing all the work to make everything seamless? Apps. While our frontward experiences may change drastically, apps will remain the powering force.
Although Carter knows that something eventually will come along to cause a major disruption, apps will continue to play a major role in our connected lifestyle because of their versatility and ability to adapt.
As he puts it, “The app is its own next thing.”