KEY POINTS

  • The biggest players in tech are looking for ways to overcome a crisis in app engagement. Users are downloading apps less often and spending their time in fewer of the apps that they choose to install. 
  • That's a big problem for Google, Apple, Facebook, and the companies that rely on their app ecosystems to reach audiences. To overcome this challenge, each tech giant has devised an approach that plays to its strengths.
  • Google is pushing Instant Apps for Android, bringing the app experience to the mobile web. These let users engage with portions of apps through deep links without having to download the app itself. At its most basic, Instant Apps let developers highlight the single most important part of their app and make it more accessible to users.
  • Facebook is exploring mini apps within Messenger and the News Feed. Part of Facebook's strategy to become an all-encompassing portal through which Western mobile users get online, they'll leverage some of the engagement tactics that helped traditional apps take over the smartphone. 
  • Apple’s leveraging iMessage to bring apps into the native iOS messaging feature. Chat apps' ascendancy was likely one of the drivers behind Apple’s decision to open iMessage, the native iOS messaging app, to developers, allowing them to build stickers and stripped down app experiences that could be launched and used within the chat app interface.
  • Brands are poised to take advantage of the new avenues of app engagement. Rather than being limited to just apps and the mobile web as modes of consumer engagement, businesses are now being given several ways to get in front of their audiences.
  • But there are multiple barriers in the way of user adoption that could limit the overall impact of these “post-app” experiences. This includes a lack of user awareness, restricted developer budgets, and unclear use cases. 

Introduction 

In 2009, Apple coined the phrase “there’s an app for that,” and within six years, its prophecy had been fulfilled. Apps had become the primary way people navigate the internet, overtaking mobile and desktop web browsers. And now they account for the vast majority of time spent on mobile devices. 

But, despite this dominance, an intensifying engagement crisis is putting the ecosystem at risk. App usage is consolidating — 85% of users’ time is spent with just five apps, according to comScore. And once they've tried an app, users mostly aren’t coming back for more. Four out of five of the average app’s users stop using it [...]