Welcome to the “post-apps” era, according to Gartner. It’s an era in which fewer apps, primarily messaging platforms, dominate more and more of users’ time. Instead of users spreading their time across many apps, they're consolidating to just a few. “People are spending more time with the apps that they’ve already got,” according to the report.
People are simplifying their digital footprints. They’re consolidating, making concessions on what they need and cutting down the platforms they rely on to the ones that do the job best, which should beg the question from marketers. What do we need to provide our users?
So often marketers can get caught up in the stories they want to tell, rather than the stories they need to be telling. It’s what leads to bloated and confusing websites that users abandon and, as is most telling from this study from Gartner, mobile apps that either never get downloaded or never get used once they are.
Low app usage is not solely marketers’ issue. It’s just the outcome of a shifting user behavior that tends to rely on a a few apps that do multiple things well, rather than apps focused on a single use case (e.g., branded apps in most cases).
Creating Experiences Within Experiences
What’s interesting in the apps users are spending time with is that they are multi-faceted platforms. Personal assistant apps and messaging apps have grown in usage. Personal assistant apps tap into multiple sources for information, depending on what the user has requested. And messaging apps are far more than iMessages. Services like Uber are directly tied into the Messenger platform, allowing users to interact with them from within a single app.
This trend in spending more time with fewer apps does not mean users are shying away from diverse mobile experiences. Instead, they’re looking to have them in the platforms they use most often.
For marketers this means focusing less on creating something new (e.g., an app) from the ground up and more about creating a new experience that serves as a value-add within existing ecosystems. The fact that a user can order an Uber while chatting with a friend about where to meet creates a richer experience.
This trend should push marketers to push beyond asking what they can create to asking what they can build upon.
More Walled Gardens
Of course, this comes with tradeoffs. In order to reach users in fewer and fewer apps, marketers are forced to close themselves into additional walled gardens where the platform (e.g., Facebook for Messenger, Amazon for Alexa, etc.) runs the show, picks winners, picks losers and changes the rules as it sees fit.
As marketers evaluate the role they can play within a platform, they should also plan for an exit strategy. How do you turn interactions with users here into customers you can communicate with outside of the platform?
Users are simplifying their own app ecosystems. In some ways, this makes things simpler with fewer places to reach more people, but it also opens up a more complicated space in which marketers need to understand the role they can play within these existing user strongholds.