Why You Should Stop Saying “There Are Too Many Apps”

Even when you feel like your phone is already overloaded

February 2, 2021

A line of virtual people, fixed on their phones, moving towards a large mobile phone, turning into robots as they pass thru.

Photo by Kentoh: Adobe Stock Images

It’s late. You have to pay your electricity bill before tomorrow. You’re in bed and can’t be bothered getting up to go to the computer. You scroll through your phone, past the weather and the news apps, past the Kindle and library apps, till you find your banking app.

It should remember your log in, but it doesn’t. Damn. The fingerprint scanner doesn’t recognize your index finger either.

It tells you to “Try another finger”. You think about which finger you would really like to show it. Ire bubbles to the surface. You try again. That’s three strikes; you’re locked out.

You would use PayPal, but you can’t remember the password. You sigh, throw back the covers to go to the computer and you say, “Why do we have so many apps”?

We’ve all said it.

Everyone hates having to search the phone for that app with the funny name you can never remember. When we need a new app, we just go for “Editor’s Choice”. The one that has had the most downloads and more than a 4.6 star review.

We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about apps. Till the banking app locks us out. Again. And when that happens, we remind ourselves that there are too many apps in the world.

It’s Hard to Remember, but Apps Used to be Cool

Apps lost their cool, sometime after the iPhone 6 or 7. (Disclaimer: I am an Android user, who recogizes that no one counts years by Android phone releases).

Evernote is a case in point. Launched in 2004, it reached “unicorn” status by 2012. For many people at the time, Evernote was a “dream company” to work for; complete with a store-front for its own branded merchandise.

But the hype went to its corporate head and it expanded well beyond the scope of a note-taking tool. By 2015, the hype was over and the company forced to scale back.

Today it’s hard to imagine getting excited about an app. For most of us, it’s a take-it-or-leave-it kind of feeling; if not love-and-hate. It makes sense; there are a lot of apps in the world.

Some people have even said the app is dead. In his popular article, “The End for Apps is Near”, Lance Ng predicted that “most apps” would disappear in “3–7 years”.

That hasn’t happened. Actually they’re growing in number, which probably adds to the antipathy web users feel towards apps as a species. Like a virtual pest.

But is it time to reconsider our collective stance on apps? To stop wishing them off the face of the earth? Or at least off the app stores.

Should we even download more of them and give them a whirl?

Missing the Wood for the Trees. The Businesses for the Apps

The biggest problem with saying “there are too many apps”, is that it is too easy. It lumps mobile-only apps, with apps that are part of complex platforms. The mobile app for my JBL headphones versus Docusign, for example.

Docusign provides huge value to companies and Internet users, but the company has taken a long time to get to where it is now. Founded in 2003, it only listed in 2018. Its market cap has gone up 4x in the last 12 months. Despite the growth, Docusign is still only tapping 1% of its potential market.

Even though we might think that tech has evolved rapidly in the last decade, in fact many tech companies have experienced slower-than-expected growth. Many put have put off IPO’ing because the climate hasn’t been right.

As users are we partially to blame for the slow growth of some tech companies, because of our resistance to “another app”?

Zoom and Slack are listed companies and also seeing enormous growth in 2020. Do we really want fewer companies like these?

I’m sure the answer to that, is a resounding “no”. So perhaps we need to rethink the app thing. Imagine any of these platforms without a mobile app to connect users to their features.

Saying “ there are too many apps” is effectively saying “there are too many businesses”. When what the world actually needs, is a whole lot more competition.

I have experienced the impact of this first hand. A tech company I work with, has spent several years building a SaaS tool for small businesses that lets them communicate in any language. It’s called NotifyMe. And yes, there is an app.

One question we encountered when we talked to investors and businesses alike, was whether internet users would download “another app”.

And it was common for people to say, “why not just use Facebook or Whatsapp?”

It isn’t surprising because social media is everywhere. But it should also be obvious, that there are a lot of downsides for a business using an ad-based social media platform to communicate with customers.

This really got me to thinking about what would happen if small businesses stopped trying to create apps. And if users refused to use them, even when they did.

Fortunately, neither is actually happening.

Apps Aren’t Just Multiplying, They’re Getting Better Too

Businesses are making more apps, and we are using them more.

Appian, which uses a low code solution for businesses to create their own apps saw 30% growth in subscription revenue this year.

Twilio which is also seeing enormous growth this year, makes apps more useful. Companies can use Twilio tech to send an SMS from their app, or customer service video calls.

We use apps more than ever and are now paying for them; even apps with overlapping functionality.

  • I used Evernote when I first started writing
  • Then I found Workflowy. I kept Evernote for memos and web-clipping
  • Scrivener is now my writing tool. Workflowy my Journaling tool. And I still love Evernote.

As work becomes more virtual, we rely on these kind of tools more and more. The trend of using and paying for apps is up, not down.

Like Spectators in a Virtual Arena for Gladiators

Competition for any new business on the web is so tough. And it starts with paying the big guys.

When you market an app, you will probably start with advertising on either or both of the App stores. Then on social media. Content marketing and YouTube videos.

And it is web users who are the beneficiaries of this innovation and enterprise. The apps that do make it on to our phones are getting better and better. And all we have to do is watch them duke it out in the arena.

When you think about it we should feel more benevolent towards that new app vying for space on our phone. Give them a chance. Let’s not dismiss them with the “we have too many apps” refrain.

Apps are here to stay. They’re evolving. It actually behooves us as enlightened and wise tech users to help them up a little.

The app is dead. Long live the app.

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