In the past year, some companies have beginning to unbundle their native mobile applications and breaking their own major application in a few smaller ones. For example, Facebook have built additional applications in addition to their official big blue application: Paper, Messenger and Pages and acquired additional apps from the market: Instagram and Whatsapp. At the same, other companies such as Google and Evernote have done the same in launching single focussed applications to the apps marketplace independent of the mobile operating system (iOS and Android). What is the rationale behind this move because we are observing it happening from the very big (major corporations) to the very small (startups)? What is the impact to the mobility strategy for the company moving ahead? In this article, I share some thoughts and insights on this kind of mobile strategy and how it might impact Asian companies as a whole.
Why are companies beginning to unbundle and break up their major mobile application into smaller ones? There are a couple of reasons to explain:
- Customer experience and usage on mobility has changed: Given the short timespan a customer has on a mobile application, the focus for the mobile app is centred on moving the user towards a simple workflow such that the transaction between the user and the mobile app is completed. In simple words, one needs to view the mobile application as an additional channel for the customer to interact with the business. Depending on the core competency and the business objective of the company, the mobile application should facilitate the transaction seamlessly and without friction for the customer.
- The bloated app stores & no equivalent of Google for mobile applications search: Whether you are a major corporation or startup, you have no choice when it comes to bloated app stores controlled by the mobile platforms (iOS and Android). The Cambrian explosion of apps in the marketplace coupled with clones and spam apps circulating within the stores made it difficult for discovery and curation of major mobile applications. Of course, the platforms sought to circumvent using featured apps and top downloads, but discovery has becoming increasingly difficult. The easy analogy to see this is to think of the days when Microsoft become the dominant operating system with many web and desktop applications flooding their ecosystem. The arrival of Google after many different solutions on search in the market changed the dynamics. Mobile search is currently in that stage where there is no equivalent of Google are able to handle the way how a user searches on a mobile device. Hence by breaking up the app and making it single focus, the discovery process becomes simpler with fewer keywords and tight description for the application to break out against competitors in the market.
- Evolution from multi-purpose web apps to multi-purpose mobile apps towards now a single purpose app: The best way to explain this is that this is an unique feature which originate from the mobile ecosystem. The multi-purpose mobile apps were more on how developers have shifted from the desktop to mobile platform. However, usage patterns from consumers demonstrate that the best usage happens when a user generate transactions from multi-purpose to single purpose app. That evolution also means that the native mobile apps are becoming service layers such that they only notify you when you have requested a certain set of contextual based notifications from a service that might compute from hardware such as sensors and data such as location coupled with machine learning algorithms. (See slide 40 and 41 of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends for 2014 – see below).
How does this affect Asian companies think about their mobile strategy and how should one think about the unbundling of apps?
- Think single purpose and focus on core competency: If you want your users to continuously use your apps, the mobile native app need to be single focus and the transaction generated from mobility must align with the business objective. For example, if you run a chain of restaurants, the app is to ensure that you can make a booking seamlessly, then ensure that the app helps the customer to discover the nearest location and allow the customer to book or pay seamlessly without hassle.
- Stop being a control freak and try very hard to be everything to everyone: Most Asian business owners tend to be control freaks and totally missed the point about why they are building an app. Some of them ended up trying to build their own versions of Google, Facebook and Paypal. Actually, this is a common aliment with western companies as well. Hence they have to understand that mobility is an additional channel where the business can acquire, grow and retain customers. It might be better for them to tap into the developer tools from other major services to get a mobile app to market quickly.
- Competition with independent developers grows: If a major corporation do not roll out an app quick, they risk to be irrelevant against independent developers who are unbundling the integrated services of a corporation and build their own niche. One of the challenges for business owners in major corporations is to reduce the roll out time for apps to drop from six to one month. The reason why big companies got so slow is because they are heavily reliant on vendors who develop their apps and the quality control they placed on desktop software are transferred in a silly way to mobile development. With the trend of a single purpose app becoming dominant, most Asian business owners need to ship out things quick, iterate and improve, instead of worrying about the future too much.
There is a silver lining on this. Recently in Apple WWDC 2014 conference, they announced a feature called “App Bundle” which allows users to download a bundle of apps that will automatically install separate apps into the phone. A similar feature will probably happen in Android and other operating systems. The app bundle allows any company to bundle a series of single purpose apps to be compiled and quickly set the customer ready for the usage quickly.