Thinking of Developing That App??

If you run an interactive team, marketing agency, or VC firm you’ve considered developing or backing development of a mobile app. It would be silly if you hadn’t. Since 2008, the year the App Store opened, over 100 billion apps have been downloaded and more than 4 million apps are currently available in the App and Google Play stores. So you could be forgiven for assuming that developing a mobile app is a cost of entry for running a business these days.

But if this is a decision you’re facing right now you have very good reason to doubt the value of incurring the expense. Not because you don’t need a useful mobile presence, you do no matter what your business offering, but because requiring customers to install an app introduces potentially unnecessary customer experience hurdles. I know unless I think I will use a service every day I won’t go through the trouble of downloading an app, no matter how many times I get asked (looking at you, Yelp). If anything, my focus on my smartphone has been to get rid of apps I downloaded rather than adding new ones to reduce clutter.

The Data

According to comScore’s latest mobile app report, most US smartphone owners download zero apps in a typical month, and year over year downloads have declined 20%. Add to that the very real impact of Google’s recent decision to penalize websites that push mobile web traffic to download an app, and the Android release last year that provided enhanced mobile web experiences and taking a big pause before investing in development of a new iOS or Android app is more than warranted.

All that being said, there’s no denying that online mobile experiences are dominated by apps. Last year TechCrunch reported that 85% of time consumers spent on smartphones was spent in apps. But of that time, only 5 apps saw heavy use. Which apps took up that time varied from user to user, but for most that dominance in mobile device usage is driven by the most popular social network, email and news apps.

As the comScore graph below shows, although most of us have a wealth of apps accessible on our phones by and large we use fewer than five on any given day. After that no apps, on average, take more than 3% of our online smartphone or tablet time. So unless you’re lucky enough to be one of those top five performing app providers, odds are your app isn’t getting much airplay.

comScore 2015 Mobile Apps Report
source: comScore 2015 Mobile Apps Report

If your app is not or is not expected to become one of the top apps for your audience then the choice to invest or not in developing an iOS and/or Android app should give you pause. Of course that doesn’t at all mean that you don’t engage with your audiences in the mobile space, just that you can consider foregoing something that conventional wisdom still assumes is required.

Return of the Mobile Web

The mobile web has come a long way since the first days of smartphones, when, before the Apple App Store was introduced, Steve Jobs was eager for owners of his new iPhone to get online. Back then mobile browsing platforms didn’t provide the experiential opportunities that last year’s the latest releases of Android and iOS offer. Now developers have the ability to deliver experiences as immersive and flexible as your favorite apps through the mobile web, and have just one platform to maintain rather than two for iOS and Android.

Last year Benedict Evans summarized the business driver for choosing native over web to just one question: “do people want to put your icon on their home screen? If the answer is Yes, go native. If No, go web.” Recently one major brand, Patagonia, decided to shut down the iPhone app they launched in 2010, stating that “now our website is beautiful and easy to use on all mobile web browsers” and inviting users to delete the app from their devices.

Patagonia

There’s no question that new business solutions will continue to be introduced that warrant a dedicated app to facilitate transactions, provide offline use, and to take advantage of native experience opportunities. But those experiential advantages alone, such as they still are, no longer justify the expense.

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In the News – The Rise of Voice Controlled Computing

The Unblinking Eye

We all – at least those of us of a certain age or proclivity for Stanley Kubrick movies – remember Hal. The Hal 9000 was the on-board computer in the 1968 Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey that the hero interacted with by voice alone. For display, Hal only offered one red eye that glowed with unvarying consistency. A toggle switch that indicated only that “I’m on,” even when Dave very much wanted it off.

Ignoring the sinister nature of that particular example, how close are we to having a Hal-like assistant that we can turn to for the complex or mundane challenges of our home and work lives? If development and investment activity are any measure then very soon we should indeed be surrounded by devices that will respond to our voice commands more quickly and more helpfully than those voice command systems companies use to provide “customer service” when we call them.

These new voice controlled systems promise to provide interactions that not only recognize what we’re saying, but can serve up articles, images, and video from any source connected to the internet and feed them back to us immediately – and in high-def. And they recognize what we want without prompting us to “say or press 1” first. They proclaim to understand what we want based on how we’d ask for it as if we were asking a friend or colleague – but promise a more informed response.

At the moment of writing companies as varied as Soundhound (a music search and recognition apps company), Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Conversant Labs (a company focused on providing solutions for the visually impaired) all have releases planned to deliver on-demand, voice controlled computing solutions. If you doubt that voice-controlled interactions will soon be widely available consider this from Wired magazine’s We’re on the Brink of a Revolution in Crazy-Smart Digital Assistants; Francesco Muzzi; 09/2015 – “It’s a classic story of technological convergence: Advances in processing power, speech recognition, mobile connectivity, cloud computing, and neural networks have all surged to a critical mass at roughly the same time. These tools are finally good enough, cheap enough, and accessible enough to make the conversational interface real – and ubiquitous.”

The Ambility team has more than a passing interest in this trend as we hold intellectual property in a solution for flexibly positioning tablet computers, and with their mobile connectivity and rich display capabilities tablet users seem destined to be one of the main beneficiaries of voice controlled computing. When smart, digital assistants can be provided hands free, the value of hands-free tablet use will multiply.

Unlike the Hal 9000, tablets don’t provide an unblinking red light in response to your queries. They provide whatever best satisfies your need. After all, a voice can provide words in response to what you want, but a picture speaks… Well, you get the idea.

It seems clear that we are still at the very  beginning stages in the world of voice controlled computing and significant barriers stand in the way of widespread adoption – standards of interaction for needs beyond straight searching and integrating voice commands into popular software and applications are just two. But it also seems clear that voice controlled interactions will help to multiply the use cases tablet computers can satisfy at home and in the office. And solutions for positioning tablets for hands-free use across those use cases will become more and more valuable. 

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