Last year, I wrote a Feature Request asking that Apple give third-party apps access to Siri, and generally work at beefing-up both the intelligence and the capabilities of its intelligent assistant. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an opinion piece pointing to the fact that Viv is exactly what Siri should have been by now.
This week, a report suggests that I may finally be getting my wish. Apple is said to be not only planning to offer a Siri SDK to all developers, but also building an Amazon Echo/Google Home type box that will embed Siri more deeply in the home through integration with HomeKit. We will, says the report, find out more at WWDC.
If true, the implications could be profound – perhaps even meaning that we’ve hit ‘peak app’ …
I borrowed the phrase from Fortune’s Erin Griffith. Her argument was that we’vee entered an era of app consolidation.
At least a thousand new apps pour into Google and Apple’s app stores every day, but the vast majority will struggle to find an audience: Smartphone users download zero new apps in a typical month. Teenagers are especially notorious for deleting all but the most essential apps on their phones […]
The smartest people in tech have already figured this out. Rather than try to convince us to download new apps (the theory behind the whole “App Constellation” trend of 2014), they’re pulling everything we could possibly want inside the apps we already have. Facebook is building ways for us to transact and communicate with businesses inside Facebook Messenger. Same idea behind Kik’s Bot Shop. Snapchat wants us to shop directly from its ads using its own currency, Snapcash. You can even order an Uber car from inside Slack.
I’m not quite sure I buy the message-bot argument. That’s a very new and, as yet, unproven approach. But I do think she’s absolutely right that app fatigue is a thing.
As tech writers, we’re more subject to it than most. You don’t even want to know how many developers pitch their shiny new apps to us on a daily basis, and in the vast, vast majority of cases my immediate response is ‘What, another one of those?’. Most apps don’t do anything we can’t already do perfectly well with a dozen or a hundred or a thousand other apps.
But I think tech writers simply experience a more exaggerated form of the phenomenon. I suspect most people feel like they have pretty much all the apps they need or want, and the ComScore evidence Griffith points to supports that. A full 65% of US smartphone users don’t download a single new app in a typical month.
Games aside, none of us actually want to use apps: we simply want to get something done, and the app is – for now – the most convenient way to do it.
Think about the transition from websites to apps. Most apps don’t actually do anything we can’t do by visiting a website, they just offer a more convenient user-interface. Say I want to transfer some money between bank accounts. I could go to my bank’s website, perform a complex login and scroll around to find the right links – or I could login to my banking app with a single touch of the Touch ID button and use the nice, friendly app UI to do it in a matter of seconds.
Sure, some apps do things that can’t be done on a website, but for the most part, apps took off because they made it easier to do the things we were already doing on the web. The very argument in favor of apps during their initial rollout is the reason I think app usage is likely to decline now: when a more convenient user-interface comes along, we’ll use it. And voice is a very convenient user-interface.
Instead of opening the Uber app to call a car, we’ll just tell Siri to order one. Instead of opening a translation app to find out how to ask directions to the train station in German, we’ll ask Siri to translate. Instead of opening an airline app to check-in for a flight, we’ll just tell Siri to do it, using stored knowledge of our preferred seats and travel companions.
I’m not arguing that apps are going away, or that the pace of development will ease off. But I do think that the number of apps we manually open and interact with using our fingers will decline. I think we’ll increasingly simply tell Siri what we need – and the app will merely be the conduit that sits there in the background making it possible.
Some of you will object that Siri just isn’t good enough at the voice-recognition or parsing task to make this feasible. Her abilities to make sense of what we say do seem to vary markedly by individual. For me, recognition is extremely reliable; for others, it’s more hit-and-miss – and some report that, for them, it’s pretty hopeless.
But improving Siri’s ability to understand what is being asked of her is part-and-parcel of the increased intelligence required, and I’m certain that Apple is working as hard on this as it is on expanding the range of tasks Siri can undertake.
Assuming the company succeeds, and you end up enjoying the same hit-rate I do with Siri’s comprehension, am I right? Once Siri is deeply integrated into both third-party apps and our homes, will Siri replace a lot of manual app usage just as apps did with the web?
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Images: Apple; iPhone Burn; Apple.