Over the past year, Gartner introduced a term called ‘the post app era’. Some may take this to mean that Gartner is predicting that the app industry is starting to stagnate or slow down. However, in truth, Gartner is actually saying that the role of apps is increasing and becoming more important; it’s the way people interact with them that will change.
Mobile apps have been around for about 20 years, though were generally relatively difficult to find and download. As a result, most of the time, mobile users didn’t bother to download them. When the iPhone originally launched, it didn’t have an app store, which many criticised it for. Yet, a year later, when Apple launched the App Store, it kick started the app revolution. Today, it can hard to remember mobile software or apps prior to the iPhone.
For the first few years, the main way for people to interact with apps was to remember to physically open them. Any interaction with an app started with downloading them and then physically using them, there was no way to interact with them otherwise. Push notifications weren’t introduced to the iPhone until iOS 3.0 or in Android until Android 2.2.
Indeed, for a while, apps like Spotify could only be used if users kept them open. Apps weren’t able to run in the background in the first few years of the smartphone revolution. This led to developers creating and designing apps around ‘Sticky’ experiences, where users were encouraged to stay in apps and metrics were measured in time spent in the app.
As smartphones have become more powerful and the operating systems they run on have evolved closer to fully fledged computers, apps have become more intelligent. Now, with the number of devices that people use, covering a range of screen sizes, the role they play has changed.
Interactive notifications, background monitoring and updating, and advances with hardware and sensors mean that apps can do more in the background, delivering better intelligence and a better user experience. Services like Google Now on Android, Cortana on Windows 10 and Siri with Proactive on iOS, all point towards smarter experiences that deliver prompts to users and, to steal the term from iOS, a proactive experience on mobile devices.
Rather than trying to keep people in apps and measure success based on the time spent in apps, companies are now needing to think about how to deliver experiences that mean users rarely need to open apps. This is what the post app era is pointing to, an era where it’s the experience that happens outside of the app, post the in-app experience.
Gartner sees this as more of a service than a product. Apps such as ‘IF’ point to this type of future, where users don’t necessarily need a number of different apps installed on their phones for experiences to happen. Instead, users just need to link their accounts and tell ‘IF’ what they want to do and the ‘recipes’ they want.
The role of apps is far from diminishing, but mindsets need to change around how companies measure success with their apps. Delivering the best user experience is often about helping them do what they need to do, in as few steps as possible. Examples of this include 3D Touch, introduced on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, where users cut down the number of steps they need to take to complete in-app actions.
Foursquare is also an app that appears to embrace the post app experience. Today, the app will send contextual push notifications, based on the area you are in, or the building you are inside, with tips from its vast database of reviews and user submitted content. In many cases, you don’t need to open the app, though it reminds you every time it alerts you, that it’s the place to turn to for information.
Dark Sky is another example of an app that embraces a post app mentality, with custom notifications that users can set up to let them know about changes in the weather or daily alerts. Users rarely need to actually open the app once these have been set up.
Just as businesses have needed to adapt to the consumerisation of IT, where users expect similar experiences and a focus on design, with the apps and services they use internally, they will also need to understand post app experiences. This will include understanding how to build or adapt apps that deliver employees or users with a more ‘slippy’ experience, whilst also balancing security.
In many cases, we can see post app examples coming to the enterprise market driven by ideas like automated log-in and authentication, when employees enter certain areas. Additionally, the triggering of key information or workflows, in specific areas, are examples of post app thinking in action.
We’re personally quite excited for what post app means for the enterprise. We don’t believe that it means that the role of apps is diminishing in any way. If anything, the role they play is growing in importance, but companies and developers have to be smarter about the way they build apps and the experiences they deliver.