What the end of the app era and impending WhatsApp war means for ambitious brands

What the end of the app era and impending WhatsApp war means for ambitious brands

Even with tech, you can have too much of a good thing. While apps have become fundamental to our lives, recent research shows consumers are growing resistant to the incessant launch of new programmes. This resistance has led to an evolution in communication and the rise of ‘universal apps’, able to fulfil multiple user needs in one platform. These are apps, but not as we know them.

When Apple launched its App Store in 2008, there were 500 apps users could choose from. Now the App Store has a library of 2.2 million and the Google Play Store has almost 3 million. There are more apps than we could have dreamed of but we’re discovering that greater choice doesn’t always mean better. Users are growing tired of endless new programmes and developers have to fight for our finite attention. One in four people abandon an app after just one use.

This isn’t to say consumers are rejecting technology. We still want the ease of running our lives through our phones, we just don’t want a plethora of platforms to do it. The end of the app era isn’t about giving up smartphones, it’s about streamlining technology so existing apps do more.

Enter ‘universal apps’, where one or two apps meet a host of different needs through software integration and additional functions. For users, the rise of the universal app promises an easier life and the gift of extra time. For brands, it provides not just a new marketing channel, but a completely different customer journey.

This move towards universal apps isn’t theoretical: China is already modelling the future with messaging app WeChat. Not only are 45 billion messages sent every day via WeChat, the app also allows users to pay electricity bills, order in restaurants, book medical appointments and file for divorce. Its features are so comprehensive, there’s hardly any need to look elsewhere.

With app fatigue setting in globally, we should expect the same evolution to occur beyond China. Critical to this shift, however, is the development of technologies such as conversational AI. This is technology that emulates human speech, helping us get answers from our digital devices, and its growth is intrinsically linked to the rise of universal apps.

The smart money is on WhatsApp to be 'the WeChat of Western economies'

Conversational AI is used by brands worldwide to support customers via their favourite messaging apps, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and guide them through the purchasing process. It allows companies to instantly sort out complex queries whilst making a personal connection with millions of customers and building brand trust and loyalty.

And it’s conversational AI that enables apps to start incorporating additional features, setting them on the path to becoming universal apps.

When it comes to following in China’s footsteps, smart eyes are on WhatsApp to be the WeChat of Western economies. This isn’t because both are messaging apps but because of WhatsApp’s widespread consumer acceptance, low-bandwidth requirements and cross-demographic appeal. Not to mention its Facebook ownership, making the integration of Instagram and Facebook a distinct possibility.

It’s for these reasons that WhatsApp is a prime candidate to become a ‘universal app’ and the site of an intense brand war. Brands wanting to keep ahead of the competition will stop looking to develop yet another owned app and instead focus on securing valuable customer attention (and spend) on universal app contenders. With early movers getting the biggest rewards, savvy brands will already be strategising how to respond to this market shift.

In the land of the app, ease is king and that no longer means juggling multiple platforms. In the battle for attention, brands are realising that building stronger relationships means existing in the channels already favoured by their customers - an