It’s the End of the App as We Know It

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There’s a perception that the mobile app landscape is robust and expanding. From a user’s perspective, it appears to be stale and static. It’s even more of a shock when you consider the average American spends more than five hours a day using a smartphone.

Given the timeline, the current landscape of mobile apps is still in its infancy. That’s great, but hard numbers indicate the app scene might actually be approaching its twilight. Consider the raw data:

  • More than 75 percent of downloaded apps are used once and never tapped again.
  • Only 33 percent of smartphone users download an app in any given month.
  • The average person devotes 80 percent of his mobile time to only three apps.

Mobile devices are clearly here to stay, though the same cannot be said of apps. They are already being replaced by new technologies and practical capabilities that are advancing the relationship between mobile devices and contemporary life. Get ready for the post-app landscape.

Artificial Intelligence

You download an app, expecting it to provide convenience, comfort, or connection. But when, where, and how you use the app is completely up to you. As a result, most people use apps at the wrong time or in the wrong place—if those apps are opened at all.

In the post-app landscape, artificial intelligence will help to bridge the contextual gap. Rather than leave it up to users to take the initiative, smart tracking and delivery tools will provide users with helpful information and services at exactly the right moment.

Let’s take an off-the-beaten-path example like farming. About one-third of the food produced in the world is wasted annually. A company like John Deere can use AI and predictive methods to forecast that waste and use its supply chain to move that food to impoverished parts of Africa or elsewhere to aid the fight against hunger.

Experimental Programs

The apps you currently use have a fixed design. Every time you open them, they basically have the same menus and features. Rather than evolve to meet your needs, the apps define your experience based on their capabilities.

Concierge services such as Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are excellent examples of the post-app landscape disrupting that model. These are essentially experimental programs with no defined features or functions. The user inputs wants and needs, and the service uses available data to deliver the intended results.

Google uses machine learning to gain as much insight into a user as possible—almost like a virtual personal assistant. I see concierge services taking that a step further, operating as models controlled by the user. Keeping them user-operated minimizes notifications and relegates phones and tablets to second-screen status.

The scope of these programs will evolve from personal to enterprise use. Instead of relying on individual apps, users will rely on webs of interconnected capabilities to enhance their lives. A diverse and limitless range of features will be woven seamlessly into the web’s structure.

3D Experiences

Traditionally, apps were used to enhance the computing experience. You would download an app, expecting it to change the way your device functioned. That could have been helpful, but the benefits were largely isolated to the 2D screen.

The post-app landscape will place a much greater emphasis on 3D experiences. Users will rely on their devices to fundamentally alter their interactions with the world. Developers will focus less on making devices better and more on improving users’ lives.

The clearest example is Uber. After a quick interface with your device, a car shows up a few minutes later to whisk you off to your destination. The capabilities of your device literally extend into the physical world. When devices as varied as home thermostats, pacemakers, and exercise bikes begin to come online, the 2D screen in your pocket will become a gateway to the 3D world.

Imagine being able to turn the heat on in your car when you’re miles away from your cottage. Or pre-programming an exercise cycle based on your personal profile and preferences before you hop on. What if you’re a traveler with a heart condition? An online pacemaker can transmit your information to the nearest doctor at the first sign of trouble.

The current state of apps is on borrowed time and primed to evolve. All that means is that the output of those apps—information—will become faster, more fluid, and more flexible.

Users have already demonstrated their indifference to mobile apps as they exist today. It will be up to forward-thinking developers to make the post-app landscape an improvement rather than a mere change.

Hossein Rahnama is the founder of Flybits, a context-as-a-service company.

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