How the dynamics of the mobile era has resulted in many, single use apps.
The internet accommodated complex services
When I was at college I was a MySpace user. It was a service so complex that i find it hard to define in retrospect. It did something different for each user. For some it was a way to communicate with friends, for other it was a blogging platform, for others it was a place to promote your band’s music.
In many ways, the internet browser enabled such complexity. It was a medium viewed on large screens, it allowed for multi-level menus, it allowed for multiple windows, it was used relatively infrequently but for relatively long periods.
Mobile favours simple, single use services
On the contrary, mobile user interfaces are small, used frequently and for short periods. They cannot accommodate such complexity. A mobile app with too many functions feels bloated and unintuitive.
The realisation of this insight caused companies to unbundling their broad desktop service into multiple specialised apps for mobile.
The Facebook website, for example, has been unbundelled into a core Facebook app, a messenger app, a groups app and a pages app.
From Benedict Evans:
“Any smartphone app is just two taps away – a desktop site can crush a new competitor by adding it as a feature with a new menubar icon but on mobile there isn’t room to do that: mobile tends to favor single-purpose, specialized apps.”
Few complex vs. many simple
This unbundelling scenario has meant we’ve witnessed the proliferation of many simple, single use apps. This means that there are more programs/apps now than ever. For example, as of July 2014, there were 1.3m apps available on Android, 1.2m on iOS and 300,000 on windows phone. That’s a huge amount.
In short, on desktop there are less apps that do more and on mobile there are more apps that do less.
The race to unbundle
In the meantime, technology start-ups are racing them to the post; trying to unbundle the desktop-era incumbents before they manage to do so themselves.