We saw it all before: the portal gold rush, the microsite gold rush, the Social Media gold rush. They all ended at one point and gave way to a more mature way of utilizing these new tools and tactics. In the early days, we saw a few lucky pioneers strike gold with novelty apps. There were a handful of independent developers and Fortune 500 brands that invested in user experience and captured the high end of the market.
As it goes with most gold rushes, the usual targets were depleted within a few months. New entrants to the apps world, find a very cluttered market, filled with competition and not many new mountains to conquer. While people have often hundreds of apps on their phone or tablet, the bulk of them are rarely used. And, let’s not forget that smartphones are not yet ubiquitous. You’re more likely to reach more people with an SMS message, even though it’s not as sexy as sparkly app.
At this point, does it still make sense to jump on the app bandwagon?
For the majorities of companies, the answer is no. A good app needs a lot of investment in design, user experience, content and marketing. Companies that don’t have a site compatible to mobile browsers, should not even think about an app. (And don’t get started with companies that create apps as a near-carbon copy of their website.)
Futurist John Smart, founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, looks beyond 2020 and sees apps as merely a passing phase in Internet evolution. “Apps are a great intermediate play, a way to scale up functionality of a primitive Web,” he said, “but over time they get outcompeted for all but the most complex platforms by simpler and standardized alternatives. What will get complex will be the ‘artificial immune systems’ on local machines. What will get increasingly transparent and standardized will be the limited number of open Web platforms and protocols that all the leading desktop and mobile hardware and their immune systems will agree to use. The rest of the apps and their code will reside in the long tail of vertical and niche uses.”
This doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t invest in apps, we just have to end the gold rush mentality. Not every advertising campaigns needs an app, not every brands needs one. There’s still some gold in the hills and mines but it’s going to be harder to find and much more expensive to extract. That’s a good thing. Enough of the bubbles and gold rushes.