Context: The App is dead, long live the App

POSTED BY Steffen Sorrell

July 2008: a certain fruity company launched its app store and gave a home to 500 freshly pressed iPhone OS (iOS nowadays) apps. It was a pivotal moment, and today Apple, Google, Microsoft and BlackBerry all have similar digital storefronts offering billions of apps to smartphone and tablet users.

Smartphone use evidently tends to be prolific. A recent study by Nielsen concluded that US smartphone consumers use an average of 26.8 apps per month, and given the huge number of apps being downloaded to devices every year, we are faced with a growing problem: the app tray is becoming crowded. Whether this means that we have too many great apps on our devices, or a large number of apps which, in the physical world, would be used as fertiliser, without our mobile devices getting to know us a little better, finding that app quickly is only going to get harder.

As we note in our recent report, the contextually-aware mobile device is going to transform this situation: smartphones, and to a lesser extent tablets, are personal devices and although they might all look the same now, the apps that are downloaded effectively make the device the user’s own.

While there have been a number of ‘smart’ launchers that have been developed, considering time of day, user habits, location and so on to predict the apps that are most likely to be used at any given time (in themselves changing the manner by which apps are searched for), I believe that another pivotal moment in the app’s tale occurred as Google announced the opening of their deep linking API to all developers. Essentially this will mean that apps can be launched from any running application on the device: a web search may invite users to launch a relevant app for example, while a native app may offer links that point to other installed apps. The potential here is huge.

Naturally a logic engine will have to be behind all of this: after all, contextually-aware is dependent on delivering relevance. Nevertheless, as we have seen from the performance of Google Now, Cortana and Siri, mobiles are already pretty good at understanding what we want, while the former two apps offer ‘persistent assistant’ capabilities. As our digital assistants become more effective, and deep linking expands across the app base, flicking through the app tray may become a thing of the past.