We are at the dawn of the post-app age. The death of the app is the birth of the new WYSIWYG interface, and in the new WYSIWYG, "what you say is what you get." Chat based interfaces are upon us, and they're going to cut across the app ecosystem.
When the iPhone debuted in 2007, and when Apple launched the app store in July 2008, we had no idea how much the world would change. When -only two years prior- Steve Jobs had delivered his "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" address at my Stanford graduation, I took photos of him on my Canon PowerShot, and barely knew how to SMS on my Nokia push-button phone. I owned Apple stock, but tragically sold it to buy a used Ford Focus.
It's hard to see the world going forward; it's easy to rationalize it going back.
But today, looking forward to tomorrow, we are at the dawn of the post-app age. For all those pesky icons on your phone, the days are numbered. Soon you might have a phone where data extraction happens by talking or chatting, not by navigating apps ad infinitum.
As of last summer, consumers had downloaded over 100 billion apps on the app store. While the number of iPhone users has increased, the number of apps used by each consumer has also increased. We all have phones and "home screens" cluttered with dozens of icons, each doing some tiny, limited function. Apps compartmentalize goods and services, but discovery of new apps, and discovery even of our own downloaded apps, is broken. Dirty fingers peck at glass screens, and we zoom in and out of apps, ignoring our lives.
Next Tuesday Y-Combinator will have its Demo Day, and scores of startups will get up onstage and talk about how they're "radically changing the world." A few of those startups will be poised to shrewdly capitalize on timing and velocity to do that. Prompt, a chat software development kit (SDK) founded by British entrepreneur Tom Hadfield, made famous for building the world's most popular soccer website and selling it to ESPN while still a teen, could be one of them. Prompt is creating an agnostic platform layer that allows developers to engage with consumers across any number of over-the-top messaging apps.
What this means is in the post-app world, brands and companies can engage with their consumers directly in the channels they care about, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, or Messenger. Brands need not spend money building stand-alone consumer-facing iPhone or Android apps, and then marketing those apps to an extremely low-frequency user. How many times have you been solicited to download an app you use once? These apps are largely a waste of the brand's resources, and the consumer's phone screen real estate.
Instead, brands and companies can create hooks within messaging apps. For example, you'll be able to ask Chase how much money you spent on Uber last month by texting that into a messaging platform like Slack. Chase might build that data hook in Slack using the Prompt SDK. Or you'll be able to order an Uber directly from WhatsApp when your friend tells you to meet them at the trendy bar across town in 15 minutes.
At first these hooks will be clunky, and hardly better than exiting WhatsApp and clicking on the Uber app. The doors into these processes, or pre-programmed little sub-routines, will be comically tiny, Allison-in-Wonderland size. The hooks and prompts to get this done over text won't be perfect at first, but as natural language processing (NLP) gets better, and the entry points for making requests and extracting information expand, it will become more conversational. It will become more like you're chatting with Her.
The death of the app is the birth of the new WYSIWYG interface. New companies like Hyper could become the Kayak travel search of this post-app world. Others such as Lemon or Trim could become the Mint of the post-app world. Companies like Button are deep linking commerce between apps, and companies like Prompt, out of this YC class, could become the Twilio infrastructure layer beneath this over-the-top messaging world.
When Facebook hosts the F8 Conference on April 12, don't be surprised if they announce an app store of their own focused on chat bots. It may be their watershed moment like Apple in 2008 when they mentioned a little thing they decided to call, "the App Store." If that happens, it will be the dawning of WYSIWYG, and the coming death of the app.
It's no longer what you see, but what you say, that matters.