Apps, going by their official definition are:
“programs with an interface, enabling people to use them as a tool to accomplish a specific task.”
But the word ‘specific’ is no longer a rational term for a mobile application these days. There has been an emerging trend for the multi-purpose, all-in-one application. A lot of thought and effort is being put to create a central, all-in-one design experience. This article examines what all-in-one apps are, why there’s a need for them and what challenges they possess.
The principle behind All-in-One Apps
All-in-one apps can be designed in two ways: based on an open, functional network of already existing apps, or built entirely as an all-in-one experience from the ground up.
The first of these, called open-loop networking is a term associated with payment processing systems. MasterCard, American Express, or Visa cards — in other words, cards that can be used at multiple vendors — fall under this category of open-loop payment processing cards. These cards can be used across multiple sites and situations. In the app-world, WeChat is perhaps the standout name in this category. The super-app has become many Chinese users’ default home on the smartphone. The Economist calls it “ one app to rule them all ”.
The app offers everything from free video calls and instant group chats to news updates and easy sharing of large multimedia files. It also allows users to shop online, to pay for goods at physical stores, settle utility bills and split dinner tabs with friends, just with a few taps. Users can also easily book and pay for taxis, dumpling deliveries, theatre tickets, hospital appointments and foreign holidays, all without ever leaving the WeChat universe.
The second category presents itself as an centralized all-in-one experience from the ground up. These apps are built with the view of providing multiple services and catering to diverse use-cases instead of solving a specific task. Google Assistant and Siri are prime examples of this design as they enable the user to perform multiple tasks such as searching online, sending an email, scheduling a meeting, and many other things. They can even help you track everything from airline ticket prices to weather trends.
Siri and Google Assistant
Why the need for an all-in-one app?
The Indian (and the Asian consumer) market is dominated by Android and for a lot of these users, their mobile phone is the first computing device. The current app paradigm requires these users to search and install an app for every task/company, that takes up space on the phones and costs data when downloading and updating. This is asking for a lot. In addition, more apps end up ruining the user experience by slowing down the phones.
In addition to the inconvenience, there’s the problem of phone space — the average app fights against WhatsApp for space on the phone (even Facebook app loses against WhatsApp — only 68% of Indians keep the Facebook app, the rest use it through the browser). As a result, most app developers lose 60–70% of their app users within 90 days of app installation. Today’s global user is very demanding, with a multitude of complex use cases.
On the part of companies, a single bundled application which solves many purposes is a gateway to user retention. Drawing users to your app is entirely different than getting them to stay in your app for a long time. The primary goal of a company is to retain user engagement over a long period of time and to compel the user to keep using its product and not look for other options. This is where WeChat, has been the most effective.
Apart from WeChat, Facebook and Snapchat have also been making strides in this direction with Snapchat launching Discover and Facebook Messenger launching bots to enrich user interactions and in-turn keeping them engaged.
However, bundling of apps is not as simple as it looks and they come with their own challenges.
The first and foremost challenge is to meet customer expectations: for example, how do you get the user to make payments on a messaging app or how do you get them to order a taxi from a map-based application? This requires a lot of advances in technology, some of which has never been worked on before.
User interface and user experience (UI/UX) is extremely difficult to get right for a standalone app, and even more difficult for a bundled app. The expansive suite of productivity often leads to clutter and can lead to a poor user experience. The application serves no purpose to a user if it has a bad user experience.
The global objective of an all-in-one app should be addressing as many behavior categories as they possibly and sublimely can within their use cases, without trying to be everything for everybody.