A trend amongst technology giants — particularly ones involved in the social media sphere — has taken off this year that has both users and analysts polarized in their viewpoints on how good it is for the consumer and for the mobile application market: app unbundling.
App unbundling is the off-shooting of applications into standalone apps that belong to one overarching app’s company. For example: Google’s splitting of Google Hangouts into an app that is separate from its Gmail app, separate from its Google+ app. This trend is also uniquely mobile. As opposed to the desktop experience where Google enables users to experience all three of those services through one online service, the mobile version requires the downloading of separate applications.
Many large social media companies have begun app unbundling. Instagram launched Hyperlapse this week — a time-lapse, image-stabilizing video application for iOS that is a separate service from Instagram, but seamlessly connected to it and Facebook. Facebook is more in the spotlight for this practice as large swaths of its usership were enraged when Facebook’s Messenger app was issued as a standalone app from Facebook proper, and had separate privacy issues. Users did not like being forced to use Messenger instead of Facebook to chat, but Facebook has claimed that ease-of-use was the very reason for the forced switchover, that including messaging inside Facebook proper created “more friction in replying to messages” as CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it.
VISUAL CONTEXT: APP USAGE
LinkedIn has also jumped on board the unbundling train, now hosting six separate apps, as it has meteorically ramped up its presence in mobile over the last year. CIO quotes Tomer Cohen, head of the mobile product team at LinkedIn, on the company’s unbundling strategy:
Why do we need to innovate fast on mobile and why is mobile in a way changing every year? It’s really because the audience is changing, the industry is changing… We’re literally, in a way, not only trying to catch up but also innovate for that industry…When you’re trying to fit the richness of the desktop experience into mobile it’s actually very hard to do within a simple mobile app. We’re not limiting ourselves to one app. We strongly believe in creating intuitive simple experiences… We believe that every mobile experience should be fulfilling a very simple wish…If you take a quick tour of the family of apps, you can see how they cater to the member life cycle and to the different use cases you might have for LinkedIn.
So, there are advantages to unbundling that can be seen from both enterprise and user sides: streamlining user experiences into standalone apps allows companies to make the individual services (i.e. messaging, email, photo-sharing) better outside of the framework of one big app. But of course, there is another glaring advantage for businesses that unbundle their apps: more opportunity for ad revenue. It stands to reason that the more apps you launch under one brand, and the more loyal users sign on to your approach, the more eyeballs and fingers you draw to more of your services. The risk is that users — much like in Facebook’s case — will reject the strategy and refuse to download the single-service apps, or they will become frustrated at the sheer number of apps they need to download in order to fully experience one brand’s service. The trend has yet to be proven beneficial or not for companies, but it is one to watch for sticking power.