In this fast moving digital age, the app revolution feels like a distant memory. Certainly, its halcyon days – when we consumers rummaged the app store, hungry to gobble up the latest app – are over. Long over.
Nielsen’s latest research showed that app downloads actually flat lined three years ago. The average US Smartphone consumer now uses an average of 27.1 apps per month – a number that has stayed roughly the same since 2012. What has increased is the amount of time that people are spending on their favored apps. Around 40 hours per month.
I’ll repeat for those at the back – 40 hours per month…! That’s almost two days worth of messaging, hash tagging, photo sharing, and the rest. According to data published by ComScore last year, US smartphone users spend almost 80 percent of their total app time in their favorite three apps, and a stunning 96% in their personal top 10 apps. In many cases, the top three apps are messaging and social networking apps.
So, rather than crowding out other content, social media apps have become the platform for people to discover, share and consume content in the mobile world.
But of course, this makes perfect sense. We’re creatures of habit; we like an easy life, and we will always opt for the seamless digital experience. Which is why WeChat’s business model works in this new era of app-fatigue. WeChat might have started from social messaging, but it’s now comprehensively expanded its functionality, and become an operating system for China’s mobile millions. Want to order a cab? Buy film tickets? Check in for a flight? You can do it all via WeChat.
The desire to be everything to everyone currently marks WeChat out. But global ambition means global functionality, rather than siloed mobile apps with single functions. This is why we in the West are finally starting to see retailers partner up with Facebook, for example, in a bid to engage with their customers, and offer them a complete service, on a platform they’re comfortable with.
The direction of travel is towards even greater cooperation with other enterprises, in order to establish and sustain innovative services that are context-sensitive, and totally revolve around the end user experience. Gone are the days that enterprises can control services in a supply and demand-style model, these days it’s all about being part of a bigger ecosystem and engaging with customers in a truly meaningful way – whether that’s allowing customers to purchase via We Chat, or get live tech support through Facebook.
So what does this mean for operators? An obvious starting point would be to ditch their ‘me-too’ chat apps, and instead partner with these market leaders who have the front end cracked, and are already popular with end users. Of course this means being open, both in theory and practice, to partnerships – and, ultimately, being part of a wider ecosystem.
More broadly, it also means being in a position to actually take the initiative in identifying these new partners and partnership models, and having the flexibility to experiment with what works. Only then can operators strike out, ahead of the market, with customer centric products and services.
Andy Tiller, VP Marketing AsiaInfo, has argued before that an ‘any channel’ architecture approach – an extension to omnichannel – is necessary to support this. In short, reconfiguring the back end so that new channels can easily plug into common business logic, rules and data – making it possible, for example, for all channels to have a common view of a user’s shopping cart (a critical feature in the burgeoning social commerce era).
So consumers are becoming more entrenched in their app habits – and there is an opportunity here for operators to ride on the back of the leading apps that their user base is already familiar with. But if the last five years have taught us anything, it is that established channels can easily be usurped, with consumers entirely dictating the direction of travel. The modern operator must be ready to do business in an ever-changing – and increasingly complex, multi-channel environment – and that means re-thinking and transforming their legacy IT systems.