This ingenious idea to improve access to apps deserves more discussion

Sometimes there are problems so deep and entrenched that when someone proposes an original and innovative solution it comes as something of a shock. Or at least that's how I felt when reading something by Alex Austin.

In 'Mobile App Developers Are Suffering,' the CEO of San Francisco-based mobile deep linking service Branch Metrics provided an in-depth analysis of all the many barriers and challenges that are keeping all but the largest publishers and app developers from achieving significant growth in their business. There are few surprises here -- Austin touched on problems in discovery, adoption and "power laws" that make monetization increasingly difficult. Keep scrolling down the nine-minute read on Medium, however, and he offers the following suggestion on easing access to mobile apps for consumers: 

"Content was commoditized long ago on the web, but the method of accessing this content is entirely seamless. A single user might visit 30-40 different web pages per day, each accessible with the click of a link in a fraction of a second. What if Android and iOS were to adopt a similar mechanism as the browser for native app access? As soon as the user expressed 'intent' to access an app, it would download and open immediately, bypassing the app store page entirely. If the app was not used for more than a few days, the OS could clean up any files associated with the app that had been downloaded in order to make room for new apps."

Works for me. I imagine other consumers and developers would say the same. Of course, like all good ideas, this may be easier said (or written) than done. As Austin is quick to admit, a lot hinges on whether platform providers like Apple and Google would make any substantial changes that would allow what's described above or any other mechanism for getting apps to blossom. The same goes for his notion of "discovery through decay," where an app would age as it's refreshed and therefore change its position on app store charts. 

What I love about Austin's thinking here is how rooted it is in the history of technology and the web's evolution but unencumbered by any sense that the current state of affairs is inevitable. At conferences and in one-on-one interviews with countless developers and experts I hear very little that would challenge the status quo of app store distribution or discovery. It's almost as though we've all forgotten that there was nothing inevitable about the birth of app stores, and that what we have on our phones could very easily have been limited to what carriers provided us, kind of like the default software programs that are still pre-loaded onto most PCs. 

Even if "native app access" can't be done, we need more people thinking up and sharing ideas based on "what if" scenarios that redefine the user experience of making apps available, of using them and even of making them. Mobile app developers may indeed be suffering today, but that doesn't have to be a long-term inevitability, either. --Shane