Software Development Blog

Mobile versus Responsive Web Apps - Part 1 - App Fatigue

Two things have happened over the last few weeks that made me think about if there are too many apps. Firstly I got a new mobile. As long as you are staying with the same phone OS (Android or IOS) it is such a simple process. Sign in with your phone account and all your contacts, appointments and apps are copied across to your new device.

It is the apps that surprised me, I had 91 to download to my new phone. That is what I had built up over the last couple of years of using my old phone.  I am sure I am not the worst in the world, I actually thought I was quite good about deleting apps I didn’t use, but there was no way I use 91 apps regularly, so obviously not. Android, and probably IOS, have both had to change over the years to deal with the number of apps people install. My first phone Android phone had 3 screens on which all apps had to be installed (it probably didn’t have the storage for that many anyway). Then came the ability to add screens for more space, followed by the ability to create folders to group apps together. Finally came an App drawer where all your apps live, hidden away. The theory being you can just have a few on your phone screens that you need access to more quickly.

It is even worse on Android. If you have never used an Android phone what you probably don’t know is that each phone manufacturer builds a skin on top of the vanilla version of Android and they pre install apps that they would like you to use (like email, calendar etc and they are very difficult to remove). Those pre-installed apps are associated with your account as if you installed them yourself. So if you change phone manufacturer the old phones pre-installed apps are carried over to your new phone (thankfully they are easier to delete!). So my new phone has apps from my old phone that I didn’t want added to pre-installed apps from my new phone that I still don’t want.

As I spent the first hour with my new phone basically deleting half the things installed it came to me that I can’t be the only person in the world that thinks that apps have gone too far, there are too many and not enough reason to keep them all installed.

The second thing that happened confirmed my fears. A friend saw me ordering something from Amazon’s website on my phone. He said “why don’t you install the Amazon app?” to which I responded by asking him to show me it. Guess what I saw? Almost exactly the same thing I was seeing on my mobile web browser. It was almost identical. Since then I have looked at the apps feature list and it does have a couple of features the website doesn’t, but they were not big enough for me to install another app.

I have App Fatigue (a.k.a App Overload)! It is not something that you can self-diagnose on WebMD. The constant updates required for the 30ish apps I do use, the almost impossible nature of finding new useful apps nowadays in App stores that are barely curated beyond going through technical approval and the fact that to try an app out you have to download it, install it, give it some permissions to control aspects of your phone and have access to your data, try it and then delete it when it is not what you want. It’s exhausting.

So am I implying that app usage is slowing down? Absolutely not, it is growing at a tremendous rate. Am I saying that the number of apps being release will slow down? No, not in the short term at least. I am not even saying that I don’t like apps, some are amazingly useful.

I am certainly not saying you shouldn’t develop an App (that would be pretty bad form for a development company!). The point of this blog is that everyone should stop, including developers, and ask if an app is really required and if you can’t think of a good reason to do one then the answer is probably no.

In part 2 of this topic we are going through the pros of developing responsive web applications and mobile apps (and therefore highlight some of the weaknesses of them both). Ultimately there is no one size fits all conclusion to make on which way you should go, it really does depend on what the software is being developed to do. In fact the most common thing that we come across is the requirement for both a Web Application and a Mobile App and then it is a decision with which order you should build them and as we will see there may just be a logical answer to that.  

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