E-commerce, Internet of Things, Mobile

Will Connected Devices Disrupt or Integrate The Mobile App Ecosystem?

The smartphone and its ecosystem of applications are disrupting industries: sales of point-and-shoot digital cameras are plummeting, earnings of GPS navigation devices makers are slipping and the cost of taxi licences is going down (almost) as fast as Uber revenues are going up.

Thanks to software, the very same smartphone can be used for very different purposes. We all know the line: “There is an app for that.” But what if an app is not the best way to get “that” done?

Last week, Amazon introduced the Dash Button, a WIFI-enabled physical device that lets consumers re-order items as soon as they run out, with a simple press.

In terms of customer experience, what can possibly be easier than pushing a button? Imagine that you are in the laundry room. You notice that you are running out of washing powder and would like to re-order some. With a button like Amazon Dash, you do not need to take your smartphone out of your pocket (provided that you bring your smartphone into the laundry room), open an app, search for washing powder and add it to your shopping cart. You just need to press a physical button located in front of you. And voilà! This makes a lot of sense and Amazon is already working with companies such as Whirlpool, Britta and Brother to integrate the Dash button into washing machines, water pitchers and printers.

From the consumer’s perspective, no app is involved. The experience is all about “hardware”. Is the pendulum starting to swing back at mobile apps? Will smartphones be disrupted by smarter versions of some of the “dumb” devices they replaced?

The smartphone/tablet as universal remote control?

In 2013, Evian worked on a connected device called the Evian Smart Drop that let users of evianchezvous.com service order bottles of water to be delivered to their home. Contrary to the Amazon Dash Button, the Evian Smart Drop (which actually never launched) integrates a tiny screen where users have to select the items they would like to order.

In a situation where users have options – such as selecting the type of items they would like to order – buttons do not provide the most appropriate user interface. Sure, one could ship as many buttons as people have options, but that would be like shipping a smartphone with a keyboard. So, is integrating a display into the device to let users input their choices the right thing to do?

Whether they are thermometers, locks or light bulbs, all connected devices ship with a dedicated mobile app (and an API) to control them. This also applies to the Dash Button, which comes with an app that lets users select which product will be ordered when the button is pressed.

In 2015, manufacturers consider the smartphone/tablet as the natural display for their connected devices. With 3/4 of the population owning a smartphone, this makes sense.

One device to rule them all?

Yet, with the multiplication of connected devices comes the multiplication of apps and the inconvenient necessity to switch between them. Companies such as Wink, SmartThings (acquired by Samsung) and Revolv (acquired by Google) are working to unify the connected home. Apple is about to enter this market with HomeKit, “a framework for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a home“. Siri and a revamped Apple TV are expected to play a central role in HomeKit, letting people control their connected devices by voice. “Lights, fade out.”

Web

“Facebook is the Internet”

According to Quartz, millions of people around the world are confusing Facebook with the Internet.

Facebook is the Internet
Facebook is the Internet

The percentage is especially high in emerging countries, where Facebook is promoting its internet.org initiative and where its revenue per user has a formidable growth potential.

facebook_revenues_region

This reminds me of a discussion I had with a Law professor at the University of Geneva in the early 2000s:

– “My secretary does not have the Internet on her computer. Could you please install it?”
– “What do you mean?”
– “I don’t know. She has been complaining about it. Please check with her.”

Checking with the secretary, I quickly discovered the issue she was facing:

– “My colleague here has the Internet and I don’t”
– “What do you mean?”
– Well, she has the blue E icon on her computer and I don’t”

Creating a shortcut to Internet Explorer from the desktop fixed the issue.

In the years 2000, the Internet could be mistaken for the Web browser. Today, it is confused with Facebook. The Internet is definitely shrinking.

Mobile, Wearables, Web

The Apple Watch And The Lost Golden Age Of The Web Browser

“Should we build a Web app or a native app?” Have you heard that question before and witnessed the heated argument that immediately followed? Then, rejoice (or not): that question is irrelevant to the Apple Watch. Indeed, when it launches next month, the Apple Watch will be missing a significant feature: a Web browser.

The absence of a Web browser on the Apple Watch may be seen as a way for Apple to further strengthen its app-based business model, but it also underlines a major shift in the way people have been accessing and using the Internet for the last few years.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he touted it as an Internet communicator and spent time showing how great the New York Times website looked on Safari mobile. The whole Web in the palm of your hand! Can you believe it? That was amazing! At that time, we were living in a PC world, where the browser was the main platform used to access the Internet. Web 2.0 was hot and Apple initially thought of relying on Web technologies to open up the iPhone to third party application developers. Eight years later, the golden age of the Web browser is over. Today, people spend more time using apps on their smartphone than browsing the Web on their computers.

Time spent accessing the Internet by device. Source: Comscore
Time spent accessing the Internet by device. Source: Comscore

Web browsing represents less than 15% of the total time spent on mobile devices and it will probably tend to 0% on wearables. Contrary to the Apple Watch, some Android Wear-based smartwatches feature a Web browser (e.g. Opera Mini on the Samsung Gear S), but I do not see who – except maybe some WAP nostalgics – is going to really enjoy a confetti-sized browsing experience.

Opera Mini on a Samsung Gear S
Opera Mini on a Samsung Gear S

In the current touch-enabled, voice-powered, real-time, notification-based digital environment, the Web browser, with its address bar, bookmarks and tabbed interface, feels somewhat archaic and inadequate to provide the most compelling user experience. This applies not only to mobile devices and wearables but also to cars and TV. Indeed, Carplay (aka iOS for cars) and Apple TV do not integrate any web browser.

The demise of the Web browser on connected devices does not mark the end of the Web. PCs, where Web browsers are still kings, are not going to disappear anytime soon, devices that do not have a Web browser are able to display Web content within apps and most of them rely on HTTP to retrieve information from the cloud.

Yet, the Web has failed to develop itself as an ubiquitous client-facing platform and, to reach customers on every digital channel, you need to look beyond the Web browser and its standards.