The 10 years of mobile Apps and why we’re moving from an App to API ecosystem

A reflection on 10 years of mobile Apps and where I believe we're going next.

Exactly 10 years after the presentation of the first iPhone and the consequent opening of the App Store, the usage of mobile Apps is still growing. Last year alone, the growth was of 11% and although it might be slowing down when compared to previous years, the interesting fact is that the usage patterns are shifting a bit as the ecosystem is showing some signs of maturity in the same way Web did a few years ago when users started to spend more time on sites like Google or Facebook.

This means that mobile Apps consolidated its place among users with an increase in time-spent of 69% but, for the first time, at the cost of grabbing attention from other Apps (and not only TV), with Messaging and Social Media leading with a 394% increase (Flurry). In other words, it’s not that users are less interested in your content, they’re just more selective on the type of Apps they use, and that means less interest in installing brand Apps.

If users are becoming more selective on where they spend the majority of their time when using Smartphones and if they’re less interested in using brand Apps, then the logic step for Marketers is to reinforce the investment on those exact Messaging & Social Apps to showcase their products, something that is already happening either through the form of advertising or influencer posts, a tendency that should only increase in 2017.

We’ve reached a point, but we don’t know what comes next – yet

Websites like TechCrunch referred to the maturity of the ecosystem as the end of the App gold rush and there’s some level of truth in that because this is a platform that allowed the creation of multi-million dollar companies that only exist under this form (like Uber) which is something that is likely not going to happen again because finding install bases for new Apps will be harder and harder, and that is going to generate less interest from startups, investors and developers.

Companies like Google, Facebook or Apple were predicting this effect for some time and are already looking for the next developer environment that will most likely not be your Smartphone but something related with VR, voice activation or bots. That’s exactly what Facebook is doing with Oculus and Messenger bots, Amazon with Alexa and Google with Android Wear or Nest – investing on new potential platforms and judging by the hype around it, Alexa is taking the lead.

We’re moving from an App to API ecosystem

Google, for example, is investing strong in it – in 2016 they’ve acquired ApiGee for $625 Million, a platform to manage API’s and that’s just one step of a bigger strategy shared by all tech giants: access centralized data in any device, anytime, anywhere. More than passing data, API’s allow the connection of entire platforms. In the near future, a brand product catalog will be read by Voice assistants, integrated in bot responses or shown inside other Apps. The number of available places for brands to showcase their products is going to explode.

The number of available places for brands to showcase their products is going to explode

In order to provide a compelling and consistent marketing message, brands should join the wave of technology standardization as soon as possible and prepare for what’s coming because a similar and smaller effect is already happening with the fragmentation of Social Media: how many brands are doing a good Job at creating exclusive content for platforms like Snapchat and at the same time Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with a reasonable amount of investment?

Place your building blocks

  • Apps that don’t actively use native Smartphone functions like shopping, finance or catalogs will be replaced with simpler, native-looking “websites”. I’m talking about Progressive Web Apps. This will dramatically reduce the development costs.
  • Native development on both Android and iOS platforms will progressively move towards JavaScript based technologies like React Native with the exception of more complex Apps on categories like gaming.
  • Usage of realtime NoSQL databases like Firebase will continue to grow at an accelerated rate. This is an API-based database that allows easy integration with multiple platforms.

If it’s true that thinking more than short/medium-term is hard for some brands, we’re rapidly approaching a tipping point in terms of technology and the ones that are better prepared are surely the ones in the lead for what’s coming, whatever the technology might be.