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The Beginning of the End for Apps

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The App Economy has been one of the stand-out successes of our burgeoning digital era. Companies like Apple and Google now generate billions of dollars of revenue from sales of mobile apps, and armies of clever developers have built entire businesses from releasing apps.

But the need for apps has never been lower than today, and looks set to fall forever. As internet bandwidth increases through pervasive 3G/4G and wi-fi access, we are approaching an age where we will be permanently, seamlessly connected to the internet. Broadband access is far from perfect today with many of us living in ‘notspots’ or having to contend with painfully slow home broadband connections. But as all prior technology developments have taught us, things rarely stay this bad forever.

Google is innovating as quickly as anyone in this space. Already, more than half of all Google searches take place on mobile devices and the company is exploring new ways to surface the best results for every search. One major issue today is that a huge amount of great content is currently buried inside dedicated apps, but Google search results can only point us to webpage-based resources, not directly into an app that we do not have installed. The solution though is close at hand…

Google started indexing the content of apps in 2013. Since then, it’s built a vast library of fresh digital content, much of which cannot be easily found on the open web because developers have locked it deep inside their apps. Starting soon, you’ll see some “app-first” content in your search results, like hotel availability in your local area from the HotelTonight app. In the past, the only way you’d have found this content would be to anticipate the need (for a hotel room), locate and install the right app (to find a local hotel room), then search within the app (to find and book that hotel room you desperately need!). Very soon, the answers will be no more than a click away in your nearest Google search bar.

Streaming App Content into Search Results

Initially app-based results will be restricted to a few selected apps. Google will decide if and how to scale their indexing based on consumer take-up of the results.

But what does this mean for the app economy? Well, in the near-term, probably not very much. We still need apps for essential needs because we cannot always rely on a fast, reliable internet connection. However, as our access to bandwidth improves, as our tolerance of apps that only serve a narrow set of requirements falls (like hotel availability for this evening!), and as our desire to simply get instant answers when we want them grows, so our appetite for apps will diminish. And with 5G mobile internet speeds in excess of 10,000Mbps just a few years on the horizon (compared to around 20Mbps with 4G today) things look set to change radically in the coming decade.

Google’s app content indexing is a fascinating development and may prove to be the first building block in the post app era where all information comes to us instantly, streamed on demand. One to watch with interest.

To learn more about Google’s programme read their update here.