No, I don’t need an app for everything!

‘I have an app for that’ is a popular expression today, and apps are the flag bearer of a smartphone that can do every task imaginable, and go even beyond.

By Abhishek Baxi

Just before settling on my desk to write this piece, I took an Uber to reach home from a press conference. I put a picture of my new home-office on Instagram, and sent out a tweet. Now, I’ve put on some easy-listening music on Saavn, and finally warming my fingers on the keyboard for writing the article.  

So, yes, like everyone around, I love apps – the modular add-on components of an operating system that offer specific functionality. ‘I have an app for that’ is a popular expression today, and apps are the flag bearer of a smartphone that can do every task imaginable, and go even beyond.

But then, businesses went overboard with apps and a lot of brands also introduced apps as a marketing tool instead of fulfilling a business scenario. Number of downloads of an app gives a brand bragging rights (just like number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers) and gives startups a pitch for the next round of funding.

Honestly, I’m getting tired of it. There is a plethora of unnecessary apps thrown at users who don’t know any better, and lap it up like it’s 2011!

Frequently I discover some new niche ecommerce store advertising its mobile apps even before spreading brand awareness and focusing on customer acquisition. I once stumbled on a mobile app from a loan company that estimated loan tenure and monthly installments, an activity one would do once in many months – best case scenario.

I think a lot of these apps are either rushed up, or just not needed. Mobile Web, the traditional way to access internet on the move, needs to be looked up again by product heads, developers, and marketing folks. With responsive website designs and powerful web technologies of today, that loan calculator could well be a webpage with a friendly URL, for example. Ironically, there are several well-received indie and third-party apps on the app stores that are essentially web wrappers.

Unless one needs mobile APIs, sensor signals, notifications, et al, a lot of apps on your phone could just well be websites. Lighter, cross-platform, and updated at the back-end.

A majority of smartphones in the country are budget devices with limited storage – so it’s a bad idea to expect a user to have an app for all the zillion online retailers in the country, maybe a couple of ones that he prefers or use frequently. Also, with poor 3G/4G penetration and expensive data plans, most users cannot download and then frequently update apps.

Again, I don’t have a problem with mobile apps. I have an issue with the arrogance with which brands and services claim real estate on my smartphone arrogance. I understand a user who’s installed a mobile app is considered and expected to be a sticky customer/user of that product or service, but those app uninstall or non-active user numbers aren’t too low either.

Times they are a-changin’

Clearly, I’m not the only one looking for a much-needed aberration from the trend. Flipkart going app-only with Myntra was met with widespread resentment, despite the traffic data the company based their decision on.

Personally, I have Amazon and Flipkart app on my smartphone, but have bought products from several online stores across the world.

Even app-based services are also creating a post on the web frontier. Uber recently launched an app simulator of sorts on with dial.uber.com while Ola launched SMS booking after going app-only last year. There’s also Jugnoo, which launched a website for food and grocery delivery.

Can the next wave of chat bots save us from the app-ocalypse?

Maybe there’s light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. 2016 saw several announcements around Microsoft Bot Framework, Bots for Messenger by Facebook, and Google Assistant. As we reach the limits of OS + apps paradigm, maybe, bots will be the new cross-platform agents for getting things done.

As messaging apps become the new platform, developers will be able to build bots that provide automated services through the messaging interface like a Zomato bot for ordering food or a dictionary bot to check word meanings.

Bots declutter the mobile experience by offering service when needed, but otherwise staying invisible. Unlike mobile apps, these bots live on the cloud and can get updated themselves.

Summary

Having said that, based on an informal Twitter poll I did, a lot of people still like the barrage of apps that is there. Most though, don’t end up using these while some of them just get things done while on the desktop. The new generation of smartphone users isn’t browser friendly on the go, as is evident by the large number of articles that are shared around as screenshots, rather than URLs.

Still, I’m holding the fort like a grumpy old man, waiting for the acknowledgment and return of the mobile web and dismissal of app-install based metrics of engagement and activity.

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