Deconstructing Mobile

There's a thorn in the side of mobile service delivery...

While mobile apps over the last 5 years have created whole new markets - from Whatsapp to WeChat and disrupted existing ones from gaming (e.g. Pokémon Go) to declining laptop sales, many business models haven't transformed.

However, when some businesses have looked to improve service delivery, mobile apps often haven't delivered. For users, the hurdle of first installing and then using apps remains a bit of a faff and therefore clicking email to web services has prevailed as the default method.

From utility companies to insurance to almost all B2B service businesses, uptake of mobiles apps has really only been for the most ardent supporters. The rest stubbornly continue ringing the call centre.

Many businesses start with building out their CRM and then create online services and then mobile apps as this journey takes their service closer to their customers. However, we need to look where users’ attention is focused and make this the focal point of service delivery. This pyramid shows the evolving point of service delivery now moving from apps into messaging platforms.

Users want services on-demand & instant gratification. Not planning by installing apps to solve future problems. #mobile #instantapps #pwa

* Ollie Maitland, Byng

Micro-apps powered by micro-services

In our previous post about Conversational UI we looked how how chatbots and messaging services have spawned a new type of conversational touchpoint for businesses to communicate and deliver services. The movement of deconstructed and unbundled services doesn’t stop there. Mobile apps are moving that way too.

Google’s Chrome team are front running Progressive Web Apps along with Opera, additionally Google have announced Android Instant Apps (a way of deeplinking and launching specific areas of native apps). Also Google are introducing new technologies such as Android Beam and Nearby, to revolutionise beacon based services. This article will address all three technology pushes and look at the impact on mobile service delivery.

As we have mentioned, the tech titans are pushing into conversational UI: Apple with iOS 10, Google with Allo, Microsoft with Botframework and Skype Bots. We see these new means for mobile service delivery being tightly coupled with conversational UI technology.

When combined, the trend points towards smaller, decoupled mobile services with the added benefit of a lower friction to start and use.

Trend 1) Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) allow organisations to create mobile app experiences directly from their existing web apps (the mechanics of this are explained in the next section). As an Ionic Trusted Partner we’ve always bet on HTML5 web apps being suitable for the majority of apps in the market. Their commitment (as posted on their blog) means bringing native-looking mobile UI components into Progressive Web Apps. Portability across to the main mobile app (if you wish to provide that too), should make developing PWAs nice and fast in the future.

To turn an existing app into a Progressive Web App you need to:

  1. Set-up a Web Manifest JSON file on your <meta /> tags (super quick)

  2. Create a Service Worker for your web app

  3. Start to use the App Shell approach to load your app offline via the Service Worker

What usability credit do we get from a PWA?

Once you get the prompt showing (see above) a Progressive Web App (PWA) is added to the mobile OS home screen so the benefits you get are very similar to an installed mobile app (but for far less effort on the user’s part).

For 9/10 businesses we suggest that this paired with the power of a Web App and you’ve pretty much got a mobile app to provide a service for your business.

Trend 2) Instant Apps and deeplinking into apps

Instant Apps provides a micro-app like interface with the full power of the Android stack (i.e. they are miniture versions of a mobile app, offering a specific piece or pieces of functionality). The new APIs are only available only to a private Beta of app developers (presumably permission is offered if you’ve got an app Google are interested in launch with).

They are different to Progressive Web Apps in that they can do much more from a service delivery perspective. We're looking forward to investigating the technology more - presumably Google have managed to figure out a way to recompile Android apps into modular components akin to a micro-app.

Google has leveraged the Runtime permissions brought in Android 6.0, so we presume when an Instant App is invoked you’ll get something similar to the “new permissions” dialogue after downloading native apps from the Play Store.

We have made the following predictions for PWAs and Instant Apps:

What usability credit are we seeing here?

For us the introduction of integrated permissioning and payment is evidently much more usable, but we also believe much of this can be achieved via Progressive Web Apps. From a tech perspective, it seems the main reason for using PWAs or Instant Apps is whether your existing technology is invested in mobile or web apps.

Choosing between Instant Apps or Progressive Web Apps should be based on whether you have made your investments into native or web apps respectively.

We believe mobile apps will remain to be relevant for the advocate user base and we hope that PWAs and Instant Apps close the gap between Web Apps and mobile.

Trend 3) Android Beam, Nearby and iBeacons

iBeacons (an Apple product range) are yet to make much of an impact in retail and other business services, but with the launch of Android Nearby (which lets you communicate via Bluetooth to nearby devices) and Android Beam things could change.

iBeacon has a slight platform imbalance issue - iBeacons are needed for the apps to work and iBeacon enabled apps are needed for people to drive demand for iBeacons. With Android this is device-to-device so there's no chicken and egg conundrum (there are hundreds of millions of Android devices in the world).

Summary of microservices, microapps and the AI intelligent glue

It’s pretty clear that this disassemblement and deconstruction of apps is going to make designing future customer experiences and digital services for mobile more tricky (you might fondly remember Javalets on web pages!).

We think that is that we’re going to the conversational UI and assistants driving much more of the user interface. In turn this plays well to the tech giants who will own these messaging ecosystems.

Our sentient operating system will know how to summon various pieces of UI and we’re then permissioning as we go.

We hope to see Apple coming up with technology aligned with this micro-app approach - time will tell!