If you work for a technology success story long enough, you're bound to eventually get the question Phil Libin recently struggled to answer: "What are your favorite apps?"
The former CEO of Evernote (who recently moved into an executive chairman role) was a guest in an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast earlier this summer, and like many of his peers, he was quizzed about his personal preferences on all manner of things. When it came to mobile apps, though, he sounded stumped. In fact, he gently suggested the death knell for apps is nearer than developers may realize.
"That experience of having to search through an app? That's going to go away, I think," he said. "I mean, I use Uber, but I don't think of it as an app. I use the Netflix app, but I don't think of it as an app. I just think of them as...services."
It was an interesting comment from the man behind a company that has been more successful than most at taking personal productivity tasks and optimizing them for a mobile experience. In some respects it makes sense, given that some of the companies he discussed, like Netflix, are really startup companies as opposed to developer studios. Yet there's a kernel of wisdom there that I think even indies should consider as they make their next product.
Uber, Netflix and other big breakout stories from Silicon Valley, like AirBNB, are all "mobile-first," but that's merely a choice based on accessibility to their target market. Who would want to order an Uber cab from their PC? You might prefer to watch Netflix on your TV screen, but having it as readily available on your smartphone as your laptop brings the service a ubiquity that predisposes consumers to making it their first choice for streaming content.
This speaks to an interesting trend, recently noted by Read Write Web, where startups such as Quip and Cotap have recently created PC versions of their mobile apps in order to satisfy customer needs they never knew existed. It's not unlikely we'll see similar moves from other startups are more consumers develop a collection of hardware that spans from smart watches to tablets to notebooks and smart TV sets.
I suspect that in many cases, the real difference between these startups and some indie developers is that the indie developers focus on apps because it's a more accessible choice for them, not necessarily their users. It takes more work, frankly, to think though the holistic scope of how consumers will come at your service, whether it's a fitness tool or a game. I don't share Libin's view that apps are "going away" entirely, but I think he's right in arguing that the best mobile services -- the ones that end up dominating the charts, by the way -- are the ones who see their brand as something on par with a MacDonalds or Walmart. Go ahead, make a mobile app -- just don't necessarily limit yourself by thinking of it as "only" an app. --Shane