When the mobile app craze was at its peak about 3 years ago, App enthusiast proclaimed the death of the web. Everything according them was going to be run on an App. If you didn’t have one, you were doomed! How wrong.
The web has grown stronger and more popular than ever while mobile native apps are dwindling each day. Please don’t confuse this with mobile in general. Mobile is of course now more prevalent than your good-old desktop. Google, Facebook and other top guns are reporting more traffic coming from mobile devices than desktop PCs. Most of Dignited’s traffic also comes from mobile devices than from desktop. But just because it’s from mobile doesn’t mean it’s coming from mobile apps.
Stats show that the average Joe now downloads zero Apps per month. Myself, I don’t remember when I last downloaded an App from the App store. I’ve about 5 Apps I mostly use on an hourly basis; Gmail, Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook and Firefox. About 7 I use on a daily and just less than 10 I use occasionally. The rest of the 120 Apps installed on my phone lie idle mostly eating up my phone memory. I mostly use browsers such as Firefox or chrome to access information on the web and navigate external links from Facebook or Whatsapp.
What just happened here? It’s simple, the web is still strong with its operating system being browsers. Mobile browsers have gotten smarter and more powerful supporting even the most sophisticated Apps. In fact with now Google backed so-called Progressive Web Apps, web apps can now access some of the phone’s native features such as GPS, Accelerator and the like. They are not yet as powerful and as easy to use as native mobile apps, but they are close.
So are native mobile apps going to completely die any time soon? Of course not. Those apps that you heavily use to communicate with family and friends or make repeative transactions or those apps that heavily rely on your phone’s native features such as GPS/Accelerator are probably here to stay. There’s no way I’ll play Temple run on a mobile web app. I will not ditch Gmail mobile app any time soon. I can’t imagine my phone without Whatsapp or Telegram. I heavily use Facebook App to stay intouch with friends and manage several pages. These apps have become browsers of sorts.
Facebook collection of apps have become the browser of our social lives. Gmail has become the browser for our communication. Whatapp/Telegram have equally become browsers for texting and group communication. What smart developers are doing is use these mobile “browsers” to build their own “Apps” via what’s now called “Bots”.
The rise of bots can’t be underestimated. Almost all the big players are opening up their platforms to some kind of bots store. The front-runners here are Telegram and Facebook Messenger. Just like you can run your website or Web app on a browser like Firefox, you can run your own bot or App on Telegram or Messenger. That’s really cool because you don’t have to worry about a lot of things. Things like building a cross-platform app or multiple versions of the App that work across Android or iOS or Windows Phone. You don’t have keep pushing Updates that require your users to re-download the App each time. You simply update the codebase of your App running remotely on some servers and your users instantly see the changes across all platforms. In short, bots are much much cheaper to build and maintain compared to native apps.
Now there are number of Smart Ugandans following this trend. Yoza, the Uber for laundry launched its bot for Messenger. I actually use it instead of the App when I need to hail laundry services. I don’t have to download their app or start it when I already have Facebook Messenger opened. Panya, the mobile directory for service providers exclusively runs bots on Telegram, Messenger and Whatsapp. See, I just have to dial the Panya bot on my Telegram whenever I need to hail an Uber. Now think about several other businesses that can turn their long-dead, less mobile-friendly websites or idle Facebook pages into more lively and interactive/transactional bots? It could start a whole new revolution on how organizations, government and companies do business in the mobile era.
So next time you want to build an App for your product, you will have to think carefully about whether or not your intended users will actually download let-alone use your App. You have to weigh options between making your website more mobile-friendly or probably role out an interactive bot on existing widely used social platforms.