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Is the Smartphone App dead?

A mobile world

When was the last time you downloaded a new app onto your smartphone or tablet?

In mid-2008, Apple created the “App Store” as a third-party app development and distribution network. But is it now game-over?

The idea was simple, and unusual, for Apple – they had started shipping millions of smart hardware devices loaded with high-tech wizardry in 2007, but there really wasn’t a lot of software to run on them.

The world has changed, a lot has changed in the last 8 years or so. Today over 40 million people in the UK own a smartphone –

Software is eating the world

The launch of the App Store opened the door to thousands of startups that suddenly had immediate and easy access to a massive market of hungry smart device users.

Think Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Spotify, Twitter, Flipboard & Netflix. These businesses only needed to create a compelling software app on a small screen to acquire millions of customers. And they did.

The core idea of going to a trusted place to get (free) software was pretty appealing: The simplicity of adding and updating the apps made it compelling.

And then came Android … and the rest

Apple was always going to be overtaken, and Google product, Android, was the favourite. The selling price of the phones, the depreciation of the hardware cost and the openness of the platform was always going to win the mass-adoption fight.

Google made a half-hearted attempt to copy Apple by locking phones to Google Play but mostly it was an after thought. The early advantage Apps had, such as local hardware access, speed, offline and trust soon disappeared in the mass-adoption Rush.

Hardcore gamers and dedicated apps might still favour running native applications but the growth of the better browsers, responsive web and pervasive 3/4G was always going to kill the sheer size of the app marketplace.

The slowing of App downloads

And now it’s about web apps

Web apps are easy to access – you simply click a link and it’s there, on your screen. No need to download a huge app, or fill your precious screen space, or valuable memory.

There are now so many different smartphone and tablet platforms that keeping in step with all of them, and the relentless release of updates, versions and hacking is a big job even if you’re called Uber, or Snapchat.

It’s gone so far that you’d be fairly mad to create from scratch a software-driven business that only works as an app. Even killer mobile apps such as Facebook are now focussing more effort of building stunning web apps that work on any browser on any phone.

So, is the App dead?

The answer is, of course, no. But, there is a greater variety of content and services via a browser – and modern mobile browsers are hugely powerful and fully featured. They are well capable of delivering an “app-quality” experience.

The dominance of native apps is now largely over; outside of daily and core functions such as email, mapping, photos, music, video, voice and security-centric services.

As a result, we will probably still use apps for frequently used digital services such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. But often the web-versions are now an equal in term of speed, convenience, security and features. And how we use them will change.

When did you last download a new app?

If you have jumped on a new (or old) bandwagon, perhaps you’re a first-time Uber user or you wanted to save some city highlights on Trip Advisor. But, fewer a fewer new apps are being downloaded today compared to 5 years ago.

What’s next?

Smartphone power, hardware, and penetration largely plateaued in 2015 and with limited new innovation there are likely to be far fewer new apps.

You’ll find yourself dumping your rarely-used apps and switching to using a web-based channel – initially this will be a browser on your smartphone.

As we see the beginning of the end of touch-based devices and the maturing of Millennials and Generation Zeds we’ll see a shift to always-on voice and image-based communication. Think Amazon Echo, Smart TVs and … the subject of an altogether new article.