Who needs apps?

Moving towards a context driven and more user friendly mobile world.

iPhone iOS 9

Siri – Proactive Assistant in iOS 9 organises data for the user

After wearing the Apple Watch for a month, watching both the Google I/O and Apple WWDC conferences I think it is clearer than ever that we are moving away from what could be called a traditional mobile app interface to a newsfeed style one and this is a natural evolution for mobile device UI design.

Paul Adams has written far more eloquently and in depth about this than I, you can read his post on the Intercom blog here. (Seriously good read).

Here is my home screen.

iOS_1

 

Here is the second page on my home screen.

iOS_2

 

It is a bit of a mess. Now granted I know I have more apps than most but this multi app interface is not uncommon and is certainly not as user friendly as it once was. When Apple introduced the iPhone it was a revolution in mobile UI thanks to the touch screen input and app layout, but now it is beginning to feel tired, cumbersome and confusing no matter how pretty the tech companies try and make it. I have myself and witnessed others lose apps within custom folders just like when you put something aside for safe keeping and then can never remember where that was…! Frustrating when you are looking for that one piece of information.

We’ve been trained to download apps, whether free or paid for, and to keep downloading apps even if we already have an app that does the job of the new app. Apps apps apps! What we really want is a certain piece of functionality or data presented to us as soon as we pick up and look at the device. Creating a frictionless tech experience for the user is always on the minds of the engineers as clearly visible at both I/O and WWDC this year. I’d love to be out for a walk, look at my phone and see instantly information about my surroundings and presented with apps that I may want to use in that moment based on what the device knows about me.

The Apple Watch has certainly begun to alter my expectations. I now expect my phone to switch on when I look at it, clicking a button or tapping the screen to unlock it now feels like an unnecessary step. I don’t want to see lots of apps on the screen, just bite sized pieces of relevant information (glances have become more useful than I initially anticipated), and finally I’d love my device to do certain pieces of activity behind the scenes with little to no input from me. The activity tracking in watchOS for the fitness minded is truly fantastic. I am looking forward to playing with Pebble’s new Time UI as I think that could be a real reflection of things to come and I am not surprised to see Apple introduce a similar experience in watchOS 2 with Time Travel.

Now On Tap is able to find relevant data from within natural language

Now On Tap is able to find relevant data from within natural language and understand the context

Both Google Now on Tap and Apple’s Siri Proactive Assistant are definitely drives to this exciting new mobile future. I (sadly) don’t think we’ll see a drastic UI change any time soon, this feed of information similar to the Facebook Newsfeed will likely stay hidden behind a swipe to the notifications stream for I believe at least the next two to three iterations, perhaps we’ll see more use of the lock-screen however.

In the long run I think this could be the big threat to Facebook and explains why they have made so many moves to try and create the elusive Facebook phone. If I can just look at my phone and get presented with information that I want at that moment, including news and updates from friends, then why would I open a social networking app? But then again why will I be looking at my phone when I’ll be embedded in a new VR driven future?

Now I should clarify as I wrap up this post I’m not really talking about removing the downloading of apps (people will always want to and should customise their mobile experience) but more a change to the UI and the idea of using apps in the way that we currently do. There will always be a future for having to open fully fledged applications, think games or enterprise based activities, but the current experience of opening and closing and opening and closing and opening (you get the idea) is one that I believe will go away in the not too distant future.

If you want some further reading try the following:

Wired.com – It’s Official: Everyone Has The Same Plan For Tech’s Future

Quartz – The future of iOS: apps you can enjoy without ever opening them

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