It’s official. With so many apps out there, not many of us still think of app development as the way to make our millions. But app innovation hasn’t come to a close – far from it. This article discusses the next generation of app development and the brands that are leading the way.

Our predictions that app development would power mobile’s potential to overtake desktop have come true. Last year, Ofcom research showed 33% of UK consumers primarily used smartphones to go online, followed by laptops (30%) and finally desktop (14%).

There is little doubt that apps, which began as purely functional, have driven smartphone use, development and adoption. First came standalone apps for casual gaming and direct messaging, followed by utilitarian apps like search, news and music.

The next big thing was building features such as offline downloads and live updates into those everyday apps. But now, those that continue to rise in popularity are outgrowing their original concept by integrating third-party services that funnel engaged users into a wider app ecosystem.

Rather surprisingly, even though Apple’s iTunes App Store is home to over 1.5 million apps and Google Play to over 2 million, 62% of users will use an app fewer than 11 times and around 25% only once globally. Safe to say, an app alone is no longer enough to break through. Only by exploring functions beyond the expected can you create an app ecosystem that is guaranteed to succeed.

Beyond the traditional app

The Chinese communication app WeChat is the ultimate app ecosystem. Much more than a messaging platform, users can play games, see what their friends are doing and meet new people. But the possibilities expand further than social functions; they range from paying bills to ordering food or hailing a cab. The business strategy for the world’s largest messaging app was to cater to the mobile lifestyle of a mobile audience – and it worked. It also recognised that for an app’s features to be more than merely bells and whistles, monetisation is key.

This style of app innovation began in Asia, but has expanded worldwide, spearheaded by Western brands like Nike, Burberry and Coke. Each brand has an individual account on WeChat (like an in-app store) where users can purchase goods and become a fan – similar to being a Twitter follower. The WeChat wallet allows users to pay their utility bills to companies such as internet provider China Unicom by simply inputting their bill number. The McDonalds account has 6.3 million fans and the company uses the platform to engage them by offering tailor-made promotions. This form of engagement has turned WeChat into an important CRM channel in China.

Apps as companions to a device

By 2020 it's estimated there will be 50.1 billion IoT-enabled devices globally, and apps will serve as the primary interface through which people interact with their surroundings. The most innovative apps, therefore, will be the ones that evolve into mobile-based personal assistants.

An example of how this is already happening is Google Nest, programmed to generate a personalised heating and cooling schedule. It additionally acts as a smoke alarm, carbon dioxide detector and security alarm for homeowners by promoting wireless and intelligent interaction between them and their devices. In this way, apps are bridging the gap between people and their environment.

This consolidated effort has not only been stepped up by the likes of Google and Apple (with WatchKit and HealthKit) but also by other unsung heroes. Boston-based agricultural company Freight Farms has launched what it calls ‘app-enabled farming.’ It grows crops inside repurposed shipping containers with IoT sensors that feed information on temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and plant growth into an app, enabling farmers to track everything remotely.

Data-driven apps

Better quality data enables better decision-making. The latest innovations manage to combine internal and external data sets, creating insights that can be used to tailor specific offers, learn about customer preferences and ultimately engage them better, for longer.

Take for instance SureFlap, a cat flap that only unlocks if the resident cat's microchip comes into scanning range. The company implemented the Salesforce1 Mobile App to track each sale of pet feeders and doors, and the insights garnered reveal customers’ needs and buying behaviours. Also, the app ensures that SureFlap’s sales team has access to data which can inform customer meetings in real time.

To be successful, simply launching a functional app is not enough anymore. Developers must consider the complex criss-crossing system of interactions and commands between brands, humans, smartphones and connected devices. Every brand must strive to fit as much of their world as possible within that tiny icon sitting on a phone screen. When it opens with the touch of a finger, the possibilities should be functional, yes – but also diverse, engaging and rewarding. All in all, the apps of the future will be far more than what they are now: they will be entire ecosystems of their own.


By Todd Miller, VP Global Marketing Solutions, Cheetah Ad Platform

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