Profit from technology

A Better Approach Than Mobile Apps

I found a link on Twitter Thursday night to an article “Mobile Apps Must Die.” Something in me secretly hates mobile apps, so I clicked over to give it a read. It’s worthwhile and written by Scott Jenson, an original member of Apple’s UI (User Interface) group back in the 80s.

Jenson’s main point is that native apps (those you download to your mobile device rather than sophisticated, mobile-friendly websites you visit in a browser) “are just becoming too much trouble to organize and maintain. It’s just not realistic to have an app for every store you go to, every product you own and every website you visit. This creates an ever increasing set that must be curated, organized and culled.”

He explores the trade-off between value and pain in determining our willingness to do all that. “The energy involved in finding, downloading, using, and most importantly, throwing away an app is just far too great.”

The payoff is Jenson’s speculation on the just-in-time interactions we’ll be enjoying in years to come. This was especially welcome after a discussion I had following my social media presentation on Monday. A WCLV account executive asked me what I thought technology would bring us in five years. I made some stupid joke and then talked about the progressive miniaturization of devices, the introduction of Google’s Project Glass, and my hope that it would not be long before I could wear a small device on my wrist or simply keep it in my pocket while not touching it. I’d like to let the interaction happen through my eyes and my voice.

Jenson’s vision is just as compelling:

  • Movie posters with radio tags such as RFID or NFC will allow me to get an interactive version of the poster on my phone to show me more information
  • Any consumer item, such as ketchup or milk bottles, also with radio tags, will allow me to not only get more information on these items just like the poster, but also track usage and even offer to purchase replacement items
  • My local bus stop will be geo-located so all I need is my current GPS fix and I can get just the information for that specific bus stop, knowing when the next bus will arrive. While this is possible today with some fancy urban systems, deploying a geo location system allows any city to do this, across all bus lines much more cheaply.
  • Any store will have an app that I can interact with as I walk through their door
  • Shopping malls will offer maps and hours whenever I’m there
  • A local food cart vendor will offer not only their menu but where they are going next and when they’ll return
  • An on demand rental car company, such as Zipcar, will allow me to register and drive away with one of their cars, just using a bluetooth connection on my phone.

So, just like when you come in range of a WiFi network your device is capable of prompting you to join it, the device could prompt you to interact with a location-based service available in that area.

What if, when you walked into Starbucks, your phone displayed your most recent order and asked if you wanted to place that order again? If you responded yes, it could charge your account automatically, and you’ll just grab it from the counter when they call your name. In this scenario, as soon as you walk into the cafe, you head straight to a table to attack your email, or to a comfy chair to relax with the paper, instead of waiting in line at the counter.

That’s a future I can look forward to, and that sounds like a much better experience than pulling up a Starbucks app on my phone, waiting for it to load, and then browsing through an order process.

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