It’s clear that app tech is big news – and big business. At Google’s I/O conference in May and Apple’s WWDC in June, we got a glimpse of the software technologies that we’ll be using from the autumn, and apps were high on the agenda. What were our biggest takeaways from both events?
Gamechanger: Google’s Instant Apps
At Calvium, we’re most excited about Google’s Instant Apps. Essentially, this new development offers native Android apps within the user’s browser: if a clicked link has an associated Instant App at the URL, the user will see a version of the app instead of a webpage.
As the Android developers’ website puts it, “Android Instant Apps enables Android apps to run instantly, without requiring installation. Instant Apps lets you experience what you love about apps – fast and beautiful user interfaces, high performance and great capabilities – with just a tap.”
Google gave an example of where this could be used: in micro-transactions. They suggested a parking meter app. It’s unlikely that Android users would want to have such an app permanently installed on their home screens, but by creating an Instant App on the parking company’s webpage, the app can – with the user’s permission – access Android Pay and user data stored on the phone to avoid the need to fill in lengthy forms and enter payment details each time.
With Instant Apps, developers can choose only to include the modules that are necessary, serving the user just the parts of the app that are required for the action they clicked on: a payment system, a map and so on. This makes the whole process much quicker and smoother than it would be on a static webpage.
In our view, mobile phone users already tend to have all the apps they need already installed on their devices: why would they want to download more? Forcing users to download apps to access one piece of information or for one-time use encourages resentment unless developers can demonstrate the value provided by the download. With Google Instant Apps, developers have the chance to create high-quality, high-value experiences without taking up valuable smartphone real estate.
The definition of an “app” is changing
Among the big announcements at WWDC was Apple’s intention to open up major parts of iOS to developers, including Apple Maps, Messages and Siri. This is huge news for third-party developers, who can now adapt these heavily-used apps to their requirements.
A year ago, Apple announced that Apple Maps has 5 billion user requests per week, meaning that it’s used 3.5 times more than the next most-used mapping app. In the future, it may be possible for iOS users to book a restaurant via OpenTable, book a taxi there via Uber and pay for their ride, all without leaving Apple Maps.
It’s good news for developers as far as Siri is concerned, too. Voice control is an element of the Android system that has been enthusiastically adopted by the platform’s app developers. It’s more than likely that the same will happen for Apple.
By opening up Messages to developers, it will be possible to complete all sorts of actions within the app without needing to open up a new application. The possibilities are more interesting than the sticker packs Apple showcased in their keynote. It could soon be possible, for example, to send money to a friend or family member in a message, without needing to open a separate money transfer app.
The opening up of parts of Apple’s core platform allows for better integration between third party apps and the iOS operating system, creating a fluidity that previously hasn’t existed. Apps are no longer an individual icon on the homescreen, but now a core part of the user experience, through integrations and extensibility.
New subscription models to encourage “middle-class” app owners
Generally speaking, the app industry works according to three business models: organisations who develop an app to complement existing products or services, hobbyists who develop software free of charge and make no money, and those who sell their apps for a fee in the hope of making money. Relatively few do the latter effectively so that many app-led businesses struggle to cover their development costs.
Apple announced a new subscription offer for all apps at WWDC 2016: a revenue-sharing model enabling them to continue taking a 30% revenue cut from developers – unless a subscriber remains for a year, in which case their cut would fall to 15%. Google followed, announcing that their subscription revenue split would move from 70/30 to 85/15 – without the year’s subscription period needed.
The subscription model is an attempt to bring back those app owners who sit in the middle ground between hobbyists and successful app giants like Toca Boca and King, the team behind Candy Crush. Such developers will no longer have the pressure of needing to come up with a new blockbuster idea each year to survive. They’ll be incentivised to sell their apps for a recurring cost rather than a one-time fee, which could also prove positive for apps with high upfront costs by making them more appealing to consumers.
Regular income will not only give developers more stability, but the combination of a regular income and the promise of a lower commission fee will motivate teams to focus on making their apps better. Enterprise and professional apps could also benefit. For apps that require substantial maintenance and regular updates, subscription pricing will help developers’ cover costs and appeal to customers who know they’ll be getting something new for their money each month. The change would mark a complete shift in the app economy – one that could see developers reaping huge rewards and users benefiting from improved experiences. Along with Instant Apps and Apple’s newly open OS, the future for app technology looks very bright indeed.
Calvium build beautiful, intelligent apps for forward-thinking brands. Working closely with heritage, engineering and agency groups, we provide award-winning app development that drives customer engagement and boosts innovation in business.