Mobile apps can stake a pretty solid claim to being the single most important shift in consumer product behaviour in the last 5 years. Sure the devices themselves are pivotally important, but were it not for the apps consumers install on them, they would just be better versions of the feature phones and early smartphones from half a decade earlier. Apps have transformed consumers’ expectations of what digital experiences should be, and not just on connected devices. But Apps have also transformed product strategy, in two key ways:
- Apps have replaced product strategy with feature strategy
- Apps have created a renaissance in the consumer software market
Apps have replaced product strategy with feature strategy
Though there are a good number of apps which can be genuinely held up as fully fledged products (Google Maps, Angry Birds, WhatsApp etc.) many are in fact product features rather than products. Shazam for example is a fantastic feature, so fantastic that it should be as ubiquitous in music products as a volume button, but it is nonetheless a feature not a product. Don’t mistake this for a derogatory critique: indeed feature strategy is virtually the core DNA of the app model. After all apps rely upon the core product of the smartphone or tablet itself to do much of the hard work.
Apps co-exist with the core functionality of the device in order to layer extra features on top. Instagram uses a phone’s camera and web functionality, Layar uses the camera and GPS and so forth. In short, apps add features and functionality to hardware products. That does not make them inherently any less valuable for doing so, but it does make them dramatically different from pre-App products. Even the majority of utility apps, such as those that track rail and flight schedules, or the weather are at heart browser bookmarks on steroids. Games are perhaps the only app category which in the main can be considered as self-contained products.