Apps are Dead.

The market is fast shifting from apps to integrated experiences. Here’s the UX Strategy blueprint for the immediate future.

The other day, I was driving along one of many SF Bay Area bridges when I heard a new song I liked on the radio. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see if I can use the latest iteration of Siri on my iPhone to add this song to my playlist, “Bikes Rule,” on Amazon Music. 

Turns out, not very far. 

The Siri and Alexa experiences are as broken and fragmented as ever. And they are both about to die.

Greg: Siri, what song is this?
Siri: “Listening” …. No song detected.
Greg: Siri, find the song that goes “kisses to my exes.”
Siri: display error: “I couldn't find a song with those lyrics on Apple Music.”
Greg: opens Amazon Music app and launches Alexa.
Greg: Alexa, play the song that goes “kisses to my exes.”
Alexa: playing Kisses to my Exes by Claps Music.
Greg: WTF? (a terrible instrumental harpsichord anime rendition of the song I wanted starts to play, no clue why that’s what Alexa thought I wanted – I never listen to instrumental music renditions… and it literally has no words in it… how is this a result of the “lyrics” query?)
Siri, search the web for song lyrics “kisses to my exes.”
Greg: oh, I see it’s Tate McRae's “kisses to my exes.” 
Greg: pulls over.
Greg: Performs a search in Amazon Music by typing in “kisses to my exes Tate McRae.” 
Greg: Hits play on the first autosuggestion.
Greg: Oh, much better, yes, that is the song. Launches Alexa. 
Greg: Alexa, add this song to my playlist, Bikes Rule.
Alexa: This action is not supported.
Greg: #%&$!
Greg: Adds the song manually.
Greg: Wow, that was just terrible... It would make for a great UX for AI column.

Now you may think this is an isolated use case, but it’s far from it. Siri, Alexa, Cortana (remember her? Right…) All these bots share the same problem: they are too literal, and they are bound to their own apps (sometimes quite badly). All have their abilities severely restricted. 

Alexa was particularly disappointing: it selected the instrumental instead of the original based on a “lyrics” query. Alexa also failed to add the song the app was playing to an existing playlist. That’s a complete fail on what is surely the two primary use cases!

I wrote about this problem in my 5th book, New Frontiers in Web Design (Smashing Book 6) in 2018. That was 8 years ago, and unfortunately, little has changed.

Until now.

AI as the new OS

The new AI-driven user experience modality is here (even if it’s not yet evenly distributed.)

One such example would be the Humaine AI Pin:

It’s using voice-activated ChatGPT-driven interface that cuts across various assistant siloes in the effort to deliver a seamless assistant experience. I assume that if the various apps can be connected through the appropriate APIs, the use case described above would be trivial: 

Greg: What is this song? 
GPT: That’s “Kisses to My Exes” by Tate McRae. 
Greg: Add it to my playlist, “Bikes Rule.”
GPT: Done. Good choice!

My readers, who followed my earlier recommendations and picked up a copy of The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen, would note that this “value system” shift is not new. It has happened in most industries following a major technological advancement. One particularly illustrative example in the book is computer storage. Paraphrasing from the book, the timeline of the shift went something like this:

  1. Customers were overjoyed to have a computer with any hard drive at all, as this storage was superior to writing on magnetic tape (which was, in turn, presumably better than chiseling symbols on the stone pyramid.)

  2. Customers value having a larger hard drive than the competition, so companies compete on hard drive capacity.

  3. Customers valued having a large hard drive that was faster than the competition, so storage companies compete on speed.

  4. Laptops come out, so portability and ruggedness become the biggest issues. This is a huge shift, and storage companies that ignore the new value system and continue to focus on capacity and speed go out of business.

  5. Laptops grow more powerful, so once again, the capacity and speed (while maintaining portability) become the dominant value system for hard drives.

  6. In another huge shift, smart mobile phones take over, which means there is now no room for a hard drive. Flash memory takes over hard drives virtually overnight. Storage companies that ignore the new value system and continue to focus on increasing the speed and capacity of hard drives go out of business.

  7. Flash memory becomes cheaper, and so (with ruggedness and speed being non-issues with flash memory) the companies once again compete on capacity.

  8. And so on, and so forth, around and around the story goes.

Hopefully, you can see the point I’m making regarding apps and why I (and a few other folks you might have heard of, like Bill Gates are saying the same thing.

Consider the timeline of the “age of apps”:

  1. Just having a smartphone that can browse the web is amazing. “Dim” phone companies largely go out of business.

  2. Thanks to Steve Jobs, apps enter the picture, providing highly customized experiences that customers value.

  3. Apps are pushed to the limit, with literally thousands of apps doing largely the same thing, replaying yet another version of “Farmville.” 

  4. A real functional AI, ChatGPT, enters the picture, and suddenly the market changes – customers now value seamless integration more than they value apps. Apps-only companies and phone companies that cling to the old apps-only experiences largely go out of business.

While things are more complex in reality (a full discussion goes beyond a single article and into book territory), I’m convinced that we are now entering stage 4.

Consumers value easy-to-use, seamless end-to-end integration more than they do having thousands of copycat app offerings. So for all intents and purposes,

Apps are Dead.

What about GPTs? Didn’t you say they are kind of like apps?

In the previous installment of the newsletter: OpenAI: Sam Altman is Gone. Now What? I mentioned GPTs, the new agent-precursor offerings from ChatGPT that provide added capabilities to the “stock” ChatGPT in the form of additional content, actions, and personality choices. I mentioned that GPTs are “kind of like apps.” 

Well, they are, and they aren’t. 

GPTs are like apps in that they can be independently authored and released. 

They are also very much unlike apps because the operating keyword is “added capabilities.” Each GPT, in fact, encompasses the entirety of ChatGPT with the addition of the content, API capabilities, and personalization. So the original GPT is there, just beyond the thin veneer, which interacts with the user. It is as though the Farmville app was also capable of everything the iPhone is capable of, such as providing map navigation, emailing, texting, taking photos, and the like. Each GPT is a complete “OS” under the hood. This is how GPTs are very different from apps.  

What’s Next

Microsoft may now pick up the torch again and leverage OpenAI ChatGPT to create new mobile and wearable offerings that will be much more integrated with a true, customized virtual AI assistant. The recently announced end of support for Cortana is a tell-tale sign.

More likely, a different company like Humane will pick up the torch and create a brand new mobile phone OS that will be largely driven by the ChatGPT engine. 

Time will tell.

ChatGPT is certainly racing to provide all it can in terms of simple ways for aggressive teams to develop complete end-to-end new experiences fully integrated with a wide variety of technologies. The Humaine AI pin is just the beginning. While the “AI pin” is likely the wrong form factor for this product, its promise is undeniably compelling. I think the short-term winner would most likely be a ChatGPT-powered combination of a phone that browses the web, a watch, smart glasses, and smart earbuds. No more fumbling with paywalls of various apps or dealing with terrible content choices (like the aforementioned instrumental exes rendition, UGH!) – instead,

The One (highly-customized) Virtual Assistant to rule them all and, in the darkness of the Neural Nets, bind them together into a seamless experience!

Which brings me to UX Design. 

Now is the Time for UX Design to Show Some Leadership 

Today marks the emergence of a new consumer value system that is focused on the benefits of integration, no longer on large app catalogs.

This is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for UX design to, once again, stand and deliver. Just as we did for Laptops, Smart Phones, Tables, and Wearables. As long as we can actually do our jobs, that is the part of our job that has to do with envisioning complete novel end-to-end user experiences. In this new era and a new way of thinking, UX leadership is much needed to fill the vacuum and help bring these experiences to eagerly awaiting consumers. 

Are you ready?

Greg & Daria

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