Have apps changed the world

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

For a while, there was this notion that once a developer creates an app or a software application for a mobile device, the whole world will download it, making the developers wealthy. The App Economy was born, and developers resolutely began to Appify the universe. Well-meaning folk, the author included, imagined that this App Economy would create millions of jobs. I recently read a billboard at the Brussels airport bellowing “Have an Appy Day!” which I optimistically presumed as a celebration of the app economy!

The allure of apps even persuaded Apple to create that memorable by-line “There’s an app for that.” Of course, Apple being Apple trademarked the iconic phrase. Millions of apps now sprawl the technology market-space proclaiming they can do any and everything for you including banking and shopping online, reading books to you, order takeout, and even tell you where parked your car. During 2018, 190 billion apps were downloaded! Do remember that Facebook and Snap Chat are also apps. Mega-apps yes, but still apps. Google Play has 2.8 million apps, while Apple store similarly has 2.2 million apps available for downloads.

Not all apps are great, though. Apps have even spawned a new condition appropriately termed “app fatigue”. App fatigue is a general resistance to download anything out of frustration for the dozens we downloaded and endured. Juxtapose our unique South African high data cost, and our app resistance increases considerably!

We are starting to see a trend which indicates people are using fewer and fewer apps. A 2017 survey found that half of the American smartphone users downloaded an underwhelming zero number of apps.

Research confirms people are creatures of habit using just nine apps per day and less than 30 during the month. Sadly, users only execute a few as one-third of the apps they ever downloaded.

During this lockdown, many developers will be tempted to develop that app they never got around to write. Herewith some other advice: Downloads are no longer sexy. Data scientist and software developer Daniel Tyreus is extremely helpful: “I’m willing to speculate that it’s easier to acquire a user if the user doesn’t have to download a new app to use a service.” Do, therefore consider a Web App.

The current wave is chatbots. Consider Tyreus had a handy app to help hayfever sufferers to monitor and collect data. This achieved very few downloads. He then converted his app into a chatbot or a bot which reached a very favourable reception! If you cannot appify then do consider to botify!

Getting folk to download an app is much like winning the Lotto because you need an elusive hook to force it to go viral. Unlikely, but boy oh boy if you hit the jackpot!

Remember, the unwritten rule of the web is intuitiveness. Know the market you aim to. An engineer’s idea of intuitiveness is different from a social scientist. Reflect and consider that there does not exist a manual for huge software such as Google, Twitter and Instagram. Anyone should, therefore, be able to use your software with a little experimenting.

Does your app offer usefulness or convenience? Ask yourself, what is in it for the user? How and to what extent does your app displace some human awkwardness or inconvenience?

Don’t rush! Indeed, the rush to creates applets has led to an Appicide where the well-meaning developer’s bravely rush to market with a great idea with inadequate product testing. You may well promote appheimer’s syndrome in your users which occurs when the developer’s update so often everyone forgets how to use it. Is this an appgrade too far?

As I write, I am reminded of Wunderlist a popular cloud-based management “to-do” application which is scheduled to be discontinued this year, 2020, because it was taken over by Microsoft, who launched their replacement app called To Do.

Download the To Do app? Me? Sadly not. I am reverting to the evergreen Post-it sticky note together with my humble pen. Post-it remains the ultimate off-grid, WORM (Write Once Read Many) app!

*Dr Colin Thakur is the InSeta Research Chair in Digitalisation at the Durban University of Technology. He writes in his own capacity.