The following is a guest contributed post from Lucas D. Jankowiak, Co-Founder & CEO of SecurionPay.com.
Apps have traditionally been an effective way to reach out to potential consumers, but in the same way as handing out flyers in the street and door to door sales have been replaced by more advanced, less obtrusive methods, apps are in need of a technological shakeup to make them more useful and less bothersome for users.
A recent Nielsen study highlighted that on average, U.S. smartphone users accessed 26.7 different apps per month. However, while we may fill our phone’s memories with countless apps, a study by the Pew Research Center discovered that 68 percent of users have just five or fewer apps that they actually use at least once a week. Like an overloaded rucksack, this extra baggage is starting to take its toll, slowing down internal functions and opening doors to security risks, amongst other problems.
While the fact that “there’s an app for that?” can solve most problems is undoubtedly cool, we are reaching the stage when clogging up our devices with apps is becoming a real hinderance, and we need to start searching for new options. So how can potential consumers benefit from all of the functions of apps, but without the backache? And what will mobile look like in the future?
Why Apps are weighing potential consumers down
Rather than engaging potential consumers, apps are becoming a hindrance for many. Mobile applications take up a lot of space on phones, and while each new generation of smartphone has amazing new functions, storage space isn’t getting that much bigger. The first generation of the iPhone had 4GB of internal storage, nearly 10 years later, we have quadrupled the average storage to 16GB and for most people, this is still simply not enough.
And while phone storage isn’t growing much, the size of apps is. In 2015 Google announced it was doubling the maximum Android app file size limit to 100MB. These larger apps use a lot of data to download if not connected to a wifi spot, which can put off potential users. On top of that, clogging up devices with apps slows down internal functions, and makes actions such as opening apps sluggish. As a result, unless a brand’s app is one of the user’s ‘top five apps’ which they use everyday, it is at constant risk of being deleted to make space and improve the phone’s running speed.
Many apps automatically connect to the Internet and accept notifications. Push notifications were traditionally text-only, but in recent years the medium has evolved to include media on some platforms like Android. In-app messaging and push notifications are an extremely effective way for brands to reach customers but according to a Localytics’ survey of 1,000 smartphone users, 52% of contestants find push notifications to be to, “an annoying distraction.” Rather than engaging potential consumers, badly timed or overly frequent brand notifications can be a major ‘turn off’.
Apps raise security issues too. According to a 2013 IBM study, 90% of the 2000 mobile applications tested revealed some form of serious vulnerability. 97% of the applications tested inappropriately accessed private information sources within a device. Another 86% of the apps tested lacked the means to protect themselves from misuse of encrypted data, cross-site scripting and insecure transmission of data. Considering the majority of eCommerce platforms allow users to buy in app using credit card details, or link their app to an account, this is a real pain-point for users and brands alike.
Users can also find themselves at risk from hacking and data theft when using an insecure public wifi connection. When paying with credit card, or entering personal information on an app this information could be accessed by a malicious third party if the data is not tokenized by the provider.
Finally, while by no means as serious as having your personal information stolen, another common ‘real life’ problem with apps, is that many are linked directly to an online account. For example, apps like Uber, Tinder and AirBnB and many eCommerce apps like Ebay and Amazon are directly linked to an online account from a specific handset. If your phone runs out of battery or is stolen then you can’t access your account. It’s not as simple as borrowing a friends phone, as you would have to link your account to that phone too. Sounds like a bit of a pain at 3am when you are trying to get a taxi home and it’s dark, cold and raining.
So what can we do now?
While having an app for your business offers a great way to engage customers, a well-designed and responsive mobile site can be just as effective. A 2015 Morgan Stanley report shows that mobile browser traffic is actually twice that of mobile app traffic. According to a 2015 Forrester Survey, 60 percent of consumers who shop online via a smartphone have fewer than two retail apps on their phones and only two of the top 30 U.S. retailers – Amazon and Walmart-drove more than 50% of their visits via app, highlighting just how expensive it is to develop user-friendly and business-effective eCommerce apps which users engage with.
With an ever-expanding inventory of new technologies, brands are being forced to create multiple different apps which are compatible with wearables, smartphones and tablets. This requires testing on different screen sizes as apps behave differently on different devices and must be promoted individually. Juggling the development and maintenance of multiple apps is expensive, even for large brands.
Many SMBs and smaller eCommerce sites simply cannot afford this. A much more affordable option is to focus your brand’s energy on developing and maintaining an attractive, responsive website. With the use of SEO tactics, you can drive traffic to one unique website, rather than insisting that mobile users take the time and effort to download yet another app to their already overflowing devices.
What does the future hold?
In the same way as Ebooks have given us a way to transport thousands of books in a device the size of a tablet, we need to find new ways to use the benefits of apps, but without the extra baggage.
Cloud streaming and deep linking are being pioneered by a number of startups such as Branch, Quixey and App Surfer. These services allow users to ‘stream’ content from a service, but without having to download the app to their devices. Streaming content from clouds could allow for even the most advanced applications which were traditionally too large for mobile devices– such as sophisticated movie-editing or architectural-design tools– to be made accessible while on the move, without using up internal memory.
Google is using cloud-streaming to bring high performance software to their apps and recently acquired app streaming startup Agawi. As of late 2015 Google enabled users to stream apps including HotelTonight, Chimani, Daily Horoscope and New York City Subway MTA Map and now allows users to stream previews of many new apps via the Google Play Store via the ‘try now’ button.
But while streaming and deep linking gets rid of the internal storage issue, Facebook’s bots could replace apps entirely. Facebook is creating bots as a way to combat the dominance of Apple and Google apps and now allows users to use a range of new functions in its messenger app such as booking hotels, Uber or Lyft rides, shopping or checking the weather thanks to the power of APIs and bots. Conversation commerce has already grown popular in Asia, and now popular communication tools like whatsapp and Slack are also joining in the fun too. These integrations offer a channel to millions of potential consumers, without any of the development and maintenance costs of running an app.
This new method of interacting with services and brands via natural communication channels has been dubbed ‘conversational commerce’ and Chris Messina of Twitter and Uber fame has stated 2016 will be the year when the tech really takes off. Right now, the future of apps is unclear, but it is obvious that they are in need of a technological shakeup. Whether it be via hybrid apps, cloud streaming or simply because we can do pretty much anything we want via a messenger service, it appears that brands will soon have a wide range of new tools and channels to interact with and sell to potential consumers.