App downloads are on one always highbut a growing number of innovators believe that a world beyond them is the next frontier for technology.
We are constantly shuffling back and forth from one app to another to complete everyday tasks. But this can be cumbersome, taxing on devices and time consuming. It’s not uncommon for people to use a combination of apps at once to accomplish one task. Just think about all the times you had to switch to your email while using a different app because you needed to verify something in your inbox.
With people spending an average of four to five hours a day on their phones, this ultimately saves a lot of time and money. A recent research Harvard Business Review found that employees switch between apps and websites 1,200 times a day, which equates to the equivalent of five weeks a year. Now imagine that combined with using your device outside of work.
Join TNW in Valencia!
The heart of technology comes to the heart of the Mediterranean
Not only is it time consuming, it also eats up people’s energy and productivity because of what is known in neuroscience as “context switch.’
In less than two decades, we’ve gone from wishing there was “an app for that” to having a plethora of choices. At first glance, this may seem like an advantage. In reality, it points to an underlying problem in the app ecosystem: there are so many apps, but very few actually do what we want them to do for us.
Leading voices in the tech community say the rise of low- and no-code tools, coupled with unparalleled access to data in the cloud, is the right time to rethink how we build app-driven experiences.
As cloud platforms have become a staple of many apps, they already contain large amounts of data that could serve as building blocks for this refocusing on app development. But what might this new paradigm look like? What does it take to make it happen? And will this be the end of apps as we know them?
From app dominance to no apps
Join a current conversation about the future of app development and you’ll hear two diverging schools of thought.
Proponents of the “super app” believe that one holistic app should perform the activities of multiple apps. However, this would most likely be built and managed by a Big Tech company. For example, WeChat not only allows users to chat, but also to shop, pay bills, and access government services. Meta’s move to allow users to log into multiple platforms with their Facebook account or shop directly on Instagram could be seen as a harbinger of this.
Web3 enthusiasts, on the other hand, believe the future will be a decentralized app ecosystem where user preferences, versus boardroom decisions, will drive the market forward. This world would put more emphasis on data privacy and try to break the influence that Big Tech currently has in the market.
The emergence of low- and no-code tools is key to democratizing development.
While both approaches diverge in their reasoning, they fundamentally point to dissatisfaction with the current app landscape. But will we have to choose between the loss of privacy versus an avalanche of new apps?
The challenge is that out-of-the-box experiences are unlikely to meet unforeseen needs and innovation that don’t fit with broader business goals.
For example, the primary purpose of a salon booking app is to enable customers to book and reserve appointments, which is directly related to the business objectives of increasing revenue for the app developer and its corporate clients.
But what if salon clients actually want an app that can show them what they would look like with different haircuts or allow them to send images of their desired ‘do’ before booking. And what if the user wants to check their calendar to see if a certain time conflicts with another appointment, or want to know what the weather will be like on the available dates?
Without a perspective responsible for the end-to-end experience of getting your hair done, beyond the capabilities of the existing app, those unexplored needs can be challenging to surface, resulting in missed opportunities to really engage with users beyond the obvious.
Instead of relying on companies to create an app that can solve some or part of their needs, some believe we are entering an era beyond apps, where people can connect directly to the services they need in the cloud, without an app as an intermediary.
The convergence of no-code and the cloud
The emergence of low- and no-code tools is key to democratizing development for the general public. The accessibility of low- and no-code tools gives people the ability to express their needs through the technology they’ve built, even if they don’t have the technical vocabulary to bring those ideas to life. Similarly, engineering teams can also take advantage of these tools by quickly creating applications and services, without having to delve into a lot of technical details.
But being able to make a tool is not enough. To build a truly personalized experience, we need data.
With over 140 billion app downloads, our technology usage has provided a wealth of data across multiple apps. Combined, each app represents a more complete and unique profile of our identity and preferences.
Instead of putting data into one app through different APIs, technical innovators like a16z General Partner Peter Levine envisions data being able to be seamlessly combined, allowing users to query requests from a single source of truth. The result would be a service that would allow users to connect directly to the cloud to access uniquely personalized information depending on their request.
The convergence of these trends brings new technologies to the forefront. Along with these industry-led developments, a new approach is the brainchild of the leading GraphQL company Apollo Graphics, Incenabling the technology industry to take an app-less approach through the development of a new ‘supergraph’ architecture.
Making the supergraph simple for everyone
The supergraph creates a network of a company’s data capabilities and microservices. It allows teams to develop their backend independently by combining data from multiple sources without the hassle and strain that would otherwise come with creating a custom chart.
Peggy Rayzis, Senior Director of Developer Experience at Apollo, tells TNW that the supergraph will lower the threshold for app development. “By making it more accessible and reducing that time, you’re going to see even more innovation, and because the supergraph is so flexible, you can use it for any type of app.”
While Rayzis notes that there are countless uses for the supergraph, she points to e-commerce and travel companies using this new technology to transform their platforms.
Making rigid app development more flexible opens doors to new models and experiences.
For example, say you’re booking a trip and want to stay somewhere that serves your favorite meals. Instead of compiling this information itself, a platform using the supergraph can search data from your food delivery and takeout app, alongside your flight search history and previous hotel stays to determine which destinations and hotels best suit your preferences . The answers that emerge stem from each person’s individual needs, resulting in tailored information. This flexible and fluid design meets the unique needs of each individual, centering the output based on the individual using it.
Tools like Apollo’s supergraph allow app developers to broadly see which data combinations are most useful to customers. As a result, they are able to build an architecture that focuses on the needs of the user, intuitively helping people to answer questions effectively and efficiently.
Instead of writing hundreds of lines of code,” says Rayzis, “you can open Explorer, our GraphQL IDE, and click a plus sign without any code to build that query. That is a really great example of how the supergraph facilitates and makes app development more accessible through low-code tools.”
Instead of a platform that clumsily connects to multiple APIs, engineering teams can seamlessly pull in data from different sources and create a central source of truth that allows them to create a flexible and modular structure that suits the individual.
Why it’s time to reinvent apps
Just as apps took time to become mainstream, this newfound approach to development could change the way people interact with technology. Now that we’ve made the cloud a rich source of data for countless apps, we can encapsulate all that data in ways that improve the experience for each individual user, rather than a fuzzy cross-section of it.
Creating architecture shaped by the user experience challenges established norms we’ve become accustomed to, but signals a path forward that is beneficial to engineering teams and users alike. Making rigid app development more flexible opens doors to new models and experiences that are a major win for both parties.