A common withhold in discussions over the future of mobile is that in the end, all mobile apps will be iOS or Android apps.
But many of these interpreters have a vested interest in helping native mobile apps endure.
Declarations of an all-native mobile app world disregard the fact that browsers and the web are fast becoming the mobile operating system of the future, and native apps are slowly dying.
Native apps are somehow good but not wholly:
Of course, native apps are great at some particular things. They’re great for gradual, heavy use tasks like chatting with friends, family, and colleagues, something we do repeatedly in a day, every day. Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat Messenger need to use the OS, microphones, and cameras directly. So it makes sense for these types of apps to have an isolated and particular native iOS and Android apps.
Although there isn’t really a requirement for any other type of app to be installed on your phone.
The mobile web, and browsers of today, can easily take care of almost everything we want to achieve.
Also, the native mobile apps were a short-term solution for short-term connectivity problems. In a 4G, Wi-Fi-everywhere world, those problems have neraly disappeared.
For example, companies like Patagonia have already said Gppd-bye to their native mobile app waving thanks to advances in mobile web capabilities and standards.
We spend more time in mobile web browsers than we think
Not only companies are turning away from native apps, the average American now downloads rarely any app in a month. This has not much to do with us spending time on phones, compare this app fatigue with the amount of time we’re spending in browsers.
Everyone’s friendly with Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. The traditional browsers that have address bars, search functionality, and buttons to move forwards and backwards. But what we use every day aren’t the only browsers.
We’re spending increasing amounts of time inside messaging apps and social networks, themselves wrappers for the mobile web.
They’re actually browsers. And these browsers give us the social context and connections we crawl, something traditional browsers do not.
For example, Facebook is our browser for the social web. It makes it easy for us to browse through and discover the friends, businesses, and content we’re most likely to enjoy. Instead of having to “pull” content through traditional browsers, Facebook “pushes” content to us based on our interests and those of our friend networks. We’ve also seen a number of aesthetic shifts, with several new features to help Facebook’s iOS app approximate a real browser.
WhatsApp is our browser for close tie friend networks. Whether one to one or in small groups, we’re drip fed content personalized to us, from our closest connections. These connections “push” content to us to browse and consume. We trust their recommendations — it’s the most personal way to browse the web.
The above messaging apps are, of course, native apps. But critically they contain new functions that replace activities formerly performed in other native apps, or anywhere else for that matter.
By offering a dizzying array of features thanks to millions of smart integrations by outside software developers, there is only very little need to ever leave these new types of browsers.
In fact, these messaging and social browsers are so successful, we tend to only need three to discover, retrieve, and consume all the content we crave. No wonder Facebook, Google and many others are placing massive bets in this area. If you own the browser, you own the audience.
Bots, the new way to browse
What’s so exciting about these new browser models is that so much is still in flux.
Bookmarks were a core part of operating systems since the 1990s, represented by desktop icons and start menus. As we spent more time in desktop browsers, we relied on different, new types of bookmarks. We bookmarked web page urls and domain names. We installed toolbars to access services like MSN News, Google Search and Yahoo! Mail. We manually curated our own content.
What we’re seeing on mobile is that bots are appearing as a new type of dynamic bookmark for mobile web browsers.
Instead of going into the address bar, typing a url, and waiting to receive content every time, bots can push us the content as we need it. They can learn the content we’re most likely to engage with, and serve us more relevant content over time. They curate content for us.
For example, take the “@music” feature in Telegram. It uses an inline keyboard that allows you to find and listen to music, without even sending any messages. And it updates its own messages on the fly as you flip through the pages of search results.
Over time, bots are a way for us to bookmark our interests and our behaviors. The content retrieved for us is actionable. We can book things and buy things. We can read things. The curation process is powered by our close friend networks and artificial intelligence.
What this means for tomorrow’s startups
The web is and will always be the most popular mobile operating system in the world, but not iOS or Android. It’s important that the next generation of software companies don’t focus exclusively on building native iOS or Android versions of existing web apps.
Just make sure those web apps render and work well in the new wave of mobile browsers — messengers. Research before building for iOS or Android just for an imaginary distribution goals. Distribution exists where people spend most of their time today — social and messaging apps, the new mobile browser for a bot-enabled world.