Trends come together to diminish the need for company apps

end of apps

By Mark Schaefer

One of the challenges in the dynamic digital space is to force yourself to abandon the ideas you love. Perhaps these ideas worked really well five years ago. Maybe they even made you famous or helped build your career. But things change and we all have to face the music … even when it’s your company’s smartphone app.

That’s right, the app you loved, nourished, and promoted may be on life support. Let’s take a look at why you may need to update your thinking on apps.

The power of the newstream

Content is moving into the cloud. This is an economic trend and a sociological one.

Thirty years ago, content was in print. Then it migrated to websites and finally apps. But today content is moving to newstreams, whether we like it or not.

The social media giants make their money by 1) getting you on their site; 2) keeping you on their site; 3) collecting personal information from you, and 4) turning that into ads.

The more content they have (not links … content), the more time people spend on their site, contributing to this simple economic factory. As we have seen, Facebook is rewarding content creators for posting on their site, especially live video. Publishers like The New York Times have been in rebellion against Facebook recently, claiming Facebook is taking all their stuff and delivering neither subscribers nor ad revenue.

Facebook itself is in an existential crisis. It wants to be a news publisher and rake in all that revenue, but doesn’t want the responsibility of being a news publisher.

All of this will eventually sort out because Facebook has to have the content, and we will submit.

The other important consideration is that Facebook isn’t the only one who wants the content off your website/app and into the newstream. Consumers do too. The digital natives don’t want to click multiple places. They want all their information in one place … Facebook, Apple News, or even Snapchat.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Abby Silverman, an executive at W Magazine. She summed it up: “I’m 26. When I consume content, I want it to be in-feed and organic. I like seeing the content I love within Instagram and Snapchat. I go to apps less and less for news. I still go to blogs because I follow those people on the social channels. It makes me interested in them as a person and I want to learn more about what they have to say. In-line and organic — that’s the model everyone will have to serve eventually. You have to be where the people are.”

Who needs them?

There are more than 1.5 million apps in the Apple Store yet comScore reports that people only use an average of three apps a day (The most popular: Facebook, YouTube and Messenger). That is why expensive branded apps often drown among the established ones already out there. Most get downloaded once and kept for a few seconds at best before being deleted. Who can blame users when they aren’t designed to solve a real human problem?

We may spend a lot of time promoting an app but it’s pretty unlikely people will actually use it … or find it. Despite some recent improvements, discovering apps on Google Play and the Apple Store isn’t easy, as there are limited ways of stumbling across one, or finding them.

And then there’s the fact that increasingly we’re not using our fingers to find what we need anyway. It’s projected that by 2020, 30 percent of all web browsing will be done without a screen at all as we search for the information we need through voice.

The bottom line? Gartner reports that by 2020, 20 percent of all companies will be abandoning their apps.

Apps hope, or nope?

In order for a brand to create an app people will actually use, it’s critical – above all else – that it must be functional and make a customer’s life dramatically easier.

And they need have as little content as possible. Apps aren’t meant to be ‘engaging’ – spending hours and hours in an app is not a reasonable metric. In fact, if a customer can solve a problem like booking an airline seat in one second, that’s much better than 10 seconds. That’s why interfaces should be extremely simple, preferably invisible.

But I think most businesses need to be thinking about the implications of an app-free existence. America is actually behind much of the world in the smartphone service department. On China’s WeChat, a consumer can pay for products, transfer money to friends, get a cab, check their laundry, donate to a charity, play games and message friends from one app. Not 20 apps … one.

Right now, Facebook is making a lot of money from mobile advertising but they’re already reaching a limit on possible ad space. As a public company, they have to find a way to keep that higher revenue coming in every quarter, without exception, without end, and that eventually will mean getting serious about a reasonable new delivery model that truly benefits content producers and consolidating more service-related apps into their space.

I see the online world getting more happy and less app-y. How about you?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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