Apps take us away from the web and away from search, and as such are a big problem for Google. Worse still, Apple customers are searching direct from the OS using Spotlight, threatening Google’s monopoly on search.
No surprise then that Google announced to services at I/O that usher in a post-app world.
The first was Android Instant Apps which allows you to use native apps almost instantaneously by clicking on a link from the browser. Apps are modularised into small components that can download and launch as fast as a web page and save the user the hassle of remembering whether they have an app installed or not, installing, and then maybe deleting. Despite being a superficially native experience Instant Apps are all about bringing users back to the browser, where Google makes its money.
It may just be that native apps were a point in time solution that will peak in the second half of this decade. To believe that you have to believe that as mobile networks get faster a non-downloaded modular app approach could offer a better user experience. That’s the way we increasingly work on the desktop where our networks are more stable, so it’s not impossible.
The second announcement was Google Home, their equivalent of the Amazon Echo, which takes us to a world where we interact with our services independent of device using voice, i.e. we just speak our wishes and they are picked up and acted upon. Most all the details about how that will work remain unclear, but given that it’s device independent native apps can only be less important.
What does all this mean for startups? I think three things:
- The distinction between the web and native apps will start to blur which will make building an app less of a big thing. That will be great for many startups thinking about mobile who currently face an ‘invest big or do nothing’ decision re mobile. Instant Apps will give them a way to experiment more cheaply.
- Multi-device voice operated services will require new user flows to work well and the startups who figure that out first will be able to get big quickly. One requirement will be little cues that give users feedback on how well the Google Home/Amazon Echo is understanding their requests or getting on with processing a task.
- Once these voice operated platforms are up and running with lots of services new startups will find it hard to get discovered. Nobody is going to listen to long lists of options so new companies will either have to be promoted by partners or sign up customers on a phone or computer first – both tough options.