When Steve Jobs announcement the first iPhone in 2007, accelerating the smartphone revolution, the revolutionary device shipped with only a small set of Apple-produced apps. There was no software development kit (SDK) yet for third parties to develop apps, and obviously no app store either. All that changed in early 2008, when the floodgates of application development were opened.
Since then, millions of smartphone apps have been created for iPhone and Android devices and their impact on society has been nothing short of revolutionary.
But the application economics will it end?
The recent explosion of innovation in artificial intelligence (AI), and particularly generative AI, suggests that the potential conditions for a post-application era may be ahead. This could pave the way for entirely new ways to interact with our devices and allow companies to provide products and services.
The idea that apps’ days are numbered is not a new topic. In fact, for more than a decade, observers have suggested that an app – a standalone software application on a screen of icons that must be located, opened and used – is not the most optimal experience.
Today, some smartphone features do not require this type of action. You can read – and if necessary – respond to a push notification, avoiding the app altogether. Security can be managed by the device by simply looking at your face. Siri and Android’s Google Assistant use voice commands to locate and produce results such as driving directions and music playback.
Smartwatches, which offer many non-app features, have not replaced the ubiquity of apps, although their remarkable popularity clearly indicates that users are open to new ways of interacting with technology.
Despite these innovations, the use of applications remains the dominant interface between users and their mobile devices.
Smartphones are extremely popular, with over six billion users worldwide. When using their mobile devices, Americans spend 88% of their time using apps. Gaming makes up a large portion of this percentage, followed by business, educational, and lifestyle uses.
Apps have changed the way we consume information and entertainment, buy things, and even how we find a date. For businesses, apps offer a whole new business channel. A company without at least one app is an exception today, and it may be an omission that costs them real money in lost opportunities.
How is it conceivable that the dominance of installed standalone applications can be overthrown from their leading position? A central answer boils down to whether there is a superior alternative.
Smartphones and apps have consolidated common needs into a single interface. The list is long and includes common features like getting directions, paying for things, playing games, consuming information, taking photos, recording videos and much more. There is no doubt that this transition has been a game changer. Pick up your phone, locate or download an app and you’re in business.
But what if you don’t need to locate an app and your needs are simply met by a voice command, or better yet, your device learns about you and anticipates your needs, responding to them occupant for you?
All of a sudden, apps can seem too heavy. With such a smart device, there would be no need to think about which app to use, locate and open it on a device, learn and remember how to use it, and then go through its many steps . This way, a noticeable layer of overhead would be removed. Technology would fade into the background and become largely invisible.
What I’m describing is a post-application world driven by increasingly powerful AI. It’s a future where devices become a connection to your own personal assistant.
Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft, wrote about the the future of software and the notion of software-enabled personal assistants, what he calls agents, for more than 30 years. Only now that we have reached the enabling technology through advances in AI, are its predictions beginning to come true. According to him: “You won’t need to use different applications for different tasks. You will simply tell your device, in everyday language, what you want to do. And depending on how much information you choose to share with it, the software will be able to respond personally because it will have a rich understanding of your life.
In a post-app world, even smartphones can become redundant. Humane, a startup based in San Francisco, developed the Ai Pin. It’s a small wearable device worn like a lapel pin, a little larger than an Apple Airpods charging case, that responds to voice and hand gestures. It doesn’t have a screen but can project text and images onto a person’s hand. The developers argue that it has all the features of a smartphone but without the screen. The Ai Pin gives us a glimpse into the future and the possibilities of a whole new market.
There is no doubt that what I am proposing here is disruptive. We live in a world of millions of apps and app developers generating billions of dollars every year. A post-application or software agent world will bring enormous and often uncomfortable changes to such a large and complex industry. It will also force organizations to rethink and reinvent how they interact with customers. But as one era leads to another, more opportunities and innovations could abound.
There is a long way to go to fully realize this future, but when it happens, everything about the way we interact with computers and the world will change.