Recently, I’ve been thinking about the apps ecosystem—good, bad and ugly. For many countries with consistent access to Internet connectivity, access to the digital world via smartphones and other screens has, ironically, created an enormous amount of fragmentation. The online world, via apps, should be as easy for us as breathing in and out, but in reality, there’s a clunkiness to the Internet. Despite a few isolated—and largely unsuccessful—efforts, there are no apps that aggregate the most common activities we engage in via smartphone, including navigation, casual communication, dining out, ride-sharing services, payment, filmed entertainment, and the like.
Across companies in many countries, we’ve had a race for dominance; a land grab for a single service (or small set of closely related services). And although there’s significant investment in these types of companies, especially at the startup level, I fear that in the long run, customers simply will not care enough to become loyal to any particular app or service. In effect, companies are asking, “Are there enough nails to hold this building together?” while customers instead are thinking at a different level: “Does this building have all the comforts that would make me want to live here?”
I’ve been particularly interested lately in a major service/app from China, which is detailed beautifully in a New York Times video. Clearly, the closed nature of the Internet in China has offered certain advantages, but it’s entirely possible for companies in other countries to mimic this model, assuming they stop thinking about individual services and about a holistic customer experience—a “platform for life.”
In short, I predict that companies that are one-trick ponies won’t survive on their own. With strong investments and patience, companies that will succeed in the long term will focus on seamless convenience for customers. This extends even beyond apps and to the larger content and service ecosystem—for example, customers want to sit in front of any screen (smartphone, tablet, TV) and access whatever entertainment content they want from a single interface. For example, many of us have experienced the frustration of wanting to see a particular TV series or film, only to discover that it’s not available on the set of individual services to which we’ve subscribed.
So, take this as a wake-up call to media companies of all stripes: make strong alliances and smart moves that offer customers a single interface for everything they do. If you’re going to own the customer of the future, you’ll have to create superaggregation. Become the platform for life. It’s not easy, but as the example from China has shown us, it’s possible.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback.