As we enter 2017, the world of mobile apps seems to be following in the footsteps of its older cousin, the world wide web. In the early days of the web, where most non academic websites were about lifestyle and social topics, certainly today, a bulk of mobile apps are just that: Games, lifestyle, social, and in many cases, completely banal apps dedicated to all sorts of things that basically don’t matter. The web became commercialized, and over time, real software functionality began to transition to the web/internet and evolve into a system where real work gets done. It appears mobile apps are entering that new era, slowly but surely…. and the web is simple compared to mobile.
The mobile app business is enormous, with millions of titles in existence, not just through Google Play, Apple’s App Store, and others, but even via private app stores that companies use to manage their internal mobile software. The world of consumer apps is especially fickle, where research suggests that many apps stay relevant for a few months at best, until they are abandoned or removed, where deleting is as easy as it is to change channels on your TV remote control. And the top, say 50 apps, are all properties of larger, more mature companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Uber and a handful of others. These are still generally in the zone of consumer, social and lifestyle.
The Media and Publishing industry began to explore the web early on, but even to this day, digital still presents a challenge, nearly 25 years later. When the broader web began to enable business and professional content, rather than content mostly based on discretionary and consumer level activity, it created a new way for work to be done, knowledge to be disseminated, ideas to be shared, and content to be organized. It also to some extent, revolutionized the idea of what the value of content is: Timeliness and digestibility overtook structure and periodicity as key drivers, and not every content discipline transitioned to the digital web successfully. One of the big lessons from that transition, is that software, like the web and mobile, must have enduring value and substance, to earn a long-term place in people’s lives.
There are dozens of firms that measure things about mobile apps. Data now consistently points to a decline in app downloads, app usage, and how much utility any given new app may have. App analytics firms like Tune, Quettra, Sensor Tower, Fisku, AppAnnie, ComScore and others have all published data that asserts the same conclusions. Novelty is defined as “state or quality of being novel, new; an article of trade whose value is chiefly decorative, comic, or the like and whose appeal is often transitory”: This describes fairly accurately the early generation of mobile apps, and why the lifespan of many apps is less than a couple of months on people’s devices. The big lesson is that the mobile apps that are enduring, represent actual real value to people, as opposed to the early days of mobile apps where most were novelties, will gain a role in people’s lives.
But during the past 2 years, we’ve heard from many people in across multiple lines of business that are looking for functionality and content that relates to their particular work, can be easily accessible, and make a long-term contribution to their lives as a mobile, always connected, content acquisition device. As I opined earlier, this follows the trajectory that the web followed, where accessing business information, educational content, research, and general curated content became one of its bigger uses, in addition to commerce and advertising.
So, during the coming weeks, we’ll begin to explore many of the things that make mobile software durable, unique, and how it’s inevitably and permanently cementing itself into our daily lives. Things like aesthetics, navigation, screen real estate, development and management effort, instrumentation and analytics, general performance, and most critically, importance to its ultimate user, the mobile customer that has it on their device.