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Brace yourself, here comes the mobile appsplosion

Mike Elgan | April 14, 2014
Prediction: The tech industry's aggressive push to give every feature its own app will drive a pandemic of app fatigue.

Smartphone and tablet apps are great. But now we're facing a kind of app glut. Our smartphones are quickly becoming bloated with far more apps than anyone can manage.

Remember when Facebook had an app? You could post messages, upload and share pictures, message people, read stuff and poke your friends.

Now Facebook has many apps for doing similar things. In addition to the main Facebook app, Facebook offers Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Paper, Camera and others.

None of these are necessary. All those features could be easily accommodated in the main Facebook app. But Facebook is embarking on a strategy of creating a maximum number of mobile apps to take up more space on a smartphone screen and, presumably, capture more user mindshare.

In what's proving to be an unpopular move, Facebook is removing the chat feature from the main Facebook iOS and Android apps to force people to install a second app called Messenger. (The rollout of this policy across the globe will be gradual and take weeks.) I expect more forced adoption of apps that contain what used to be features inside the Facebook app.

Facebook isn't the only company with a more-apps-is-better strategy.

Dropbox has since its launch been a simple-to-use cloud storage and sharing service accessible both via the Web and through iOS and Android apps. But this week, Dropbox fans were confronted with more Dropbox apps to download and install.

In addition to rolling out a new Dropbox for Business, the company also unveiled Project Harmony, which enables group editing and sharing of Microsoft Office apps stored on Dropbox, as well as Dropbox Carousel, a photo-sharing app.

Dropbox also announced an Android version of its Mailbox email app, which has been available on iOS for more than a year. The company expects to further the strategy in the future with still more apps.

These two sets of announcements this week are part of a larger trend where companies engage in a kind of arms race with competitors to see how many apps they can get everyone to use.

It may be a reaction to Google's leadership in the mobile app arena, where that company makes most of the mobile ad revenue, and also gobbles up screen real estate. Just looking at my own Android phone, I see Google's Gmail, Google+, Maps, Play Music, Play Movie, Play Books, Play News (yes, they all have their own apps), YouTube, Calendar, People, Drive, Keep. There are others I could download if I wanted to.

Meanwhile, objects in our lives that never had associated apps are getting them. The so-called Internet of Things and the home automation movement are mostly bringing apps onto our phones.


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