Let’s lay out some mobile app facts and see where they lead us:
1. Most people only use a few apps.
According to comScore’s 2016 US Mobile App Report, 49% of smartphone users downloaded no new apps in the last month. The data points to most people just using the same apps over and over again. Which apps? You can probably guess most of the top 25:
2. Bots are skyrocketing in popularity.
A recent report from Citigroup Inc. shows that the “bot economy” is growing faster than the app economy ever did. The general user barely even understands what bots are, or what they can really do, but they are booming. In 6 months of operating, we’re seeing significantly more bots than we did apps at their 6-month mark.
In a nutshell, bots are simple AI that usually plug into messaging app/platforms to help the user with tasks or transactions. Did you know you can hail an Uber via Facebook Messenger? That’s because of the Uber bot that plugs into the app.
Granted, bots need apps to thrive so it’s a bit skewed to compare growth rates, but the numbers indicate that bots might be the next big horizon of tech growth, especially if app growth has stagnated (as hinted at in our first point above). And users are getting more and more comfortable with these bots. Again, take Facebook Messenger. In it, you can:
- get an Uber
- send/receive money
- play games
- draw pictures
- edit photos
- buy real flowers
- get the news
- and much more.
With functionality like this, why would you need to download any app other than Messenger? Well, that’s exactly the point.
3. Tech giants are trying to lock users into their apps.
Google, Apple, Facebook. These are the three tech giants that are leading the charge in siloing app users. Check out the top 25 apps again: the big three account for nearly half of those (especially near the top), and if you count Amazon, that’s the majority of the top 25 apps that, again, most people spend most of their time in.
TechCrunch identified this race to create the all-in-one app, and though they focus their article on the OS war between Apple and Google, we think it goes beyond that classic battle. It’s really down to the app. More time spent in Google Now versus Facebook Messenger versus Apple Music means billions in revenue for the winner, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that there will actually be a winner. It’s already happening in China with WeChat, where a regular user returns to it 10+ times over the course of a day, to do anything from messaging to payments to getting a taxi.
The scary future of all-in-one apps.
These three pieces of news point to a frightening future where mega-apps do everything, and only a few niche apps will exist to cater to niche groups. As app developers, this makes us squirm. But as users, this makes us worry about being locked-in to a single app from a single company. Sure, the market might be evolving to where bots will replace apps as the new frontier in individualistic tech, but remember, there are really only two choices for mobile OS (sorry Windows), and apps already have to funnel into these two silos. Now bots that silo into apps? How far does this rabbit hole descend?
This app-pocalypse won’t happen overnight, and there are plenty of companies with a vested interest in not letting 3 tech giants build a mega-app. But the warning signs are there. It will be interesting to see what happens if users unwittingly slip into all-in-one app complacency.
What do you think about all-in-one apps? Sound off in the comments below!