Have we reached Peak App?
Is the concept of the App about to change forever?
I’ve been pondering an idea for the last few months, since WWDC, which is whether we have passed Peak App? Has the idea of what we think an App is reached a crest and are we currently experiencing the beginning of a new era for the humbleApp? What I mean by Peak App, isn’t that Apps are doomed, but more what we think of as an App is changing for ever, and that we’re seeing in a new phase of their evolution with the explosion of platforms and widgets.
The way in which we experience Apps is no-longer hidden behind an icon, a simple full screen, pixel perfect, single process view of their data. For the last few years, focus has been on Apps supporting more platforms, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, Vision Pro, mostly powered by SwiftUI’s rise. Additionally Apps can support Widgets, which are now interactive, Siri Intents, Live Activities, Share Clips, Shortcuts, Notifications and with iPhone 15 the Action Button. A myriad of ways for users to interact with an App without actually opening it. Jason Snell had a similar insight on the Upgrade podcast, episode 477 where he said:
“we’re potentially entering an era where Apple is sort of saying, there are lots of interactions you do with apps that you don’t have to do in the app…. That’s an interesting shift in philosophy to say opening the apps is not the way you have to interact with them, in fact some apps I would imagine, it be very rare that you need to go in”. Jason Snell
More and more we’ll see the core functionality of an app accessed through system interactions, offered by the app, but presented by processes outside of the Apps control. In the future, I can see apps being more like APIs, exposing their data through endpoints (intents), allowing users to indirectly interact with the app in even more places. It will be possible to combine functionality between different apps, joining the output of one intent with another or presenting them together in new ways. We see this already with Shortcuts, and somewhat with Interactive Widgets, but this ability will only get more powerful and easy for the user to control going forwards.
Will we eventually see a Widget Store, the ability to get the functionality of a widget, without first downloading an App?
Apple often foreshadows their plans with features that may look underwhelming in themselves, but form part of a grander vision. There’s been a push for Intents for years, first donating them to the system, then with Shortcut integration and now with Interactive widgets. Widgets are everywhere, Apple has been slowly making them more powerful and more useful across home screens, lock screens, StandBy and watch faces. With the inevitability of an LLM based Siri coming, how else will that work for App integration, if not for an Intent based system with results visually displayed on the best device to you, the phone in your hand or on it’s stand, the TV on the wall, or directly into your world through the Vision Pro.
I can see Apps no longer being delivered via a coherent interface, but a set of features that can be mixed and matched together, the experience would be widget like, just a lot more powerful and not restricted to the Home Screen. Drop a weather widget into your sports app, combine a time tracking widget next to your event in the calendar app. The control will be with the user in how they interact with your features, not the developer. Why limit the use of a widget to the confines of a screen designed for App Icons? It’s clear the current Home Screen is too limiting for Widgets as they mature, but will Apple go so far as to remove icons themselves from the Home Screen altogether? It doesn’t seem out of the question, a small widget offering live information is way more powerful than a static icon. Could it lead to a Widget Store? A future where functionality and quick interactions supersedes complexity and breadth of features?
What we currently know as the Home Screen is too limiting for Widgets as they mature
In Federico Viticci’s excellent iOS and iPadOS 17 review on MacStories he concludes with the same sentiment;
A modern app for the Apple ecosystem is more than an icon on the Home Screen: it’s a container for a diverse set of experiences on a range of different hardware products…. What does it even mean to be an app anymore? - Federico Viticci
What does this mean for developers? I would recommend leaning into App Intents, integrating interactive widgets, App Shortcuts and developing your apps to be as modular as possible. Plan for all features to be accessed independently and if you haven’t already then lean into SwiftUI and native development. If you’re reliant on cross platform tools, you’ll be more and more ostracised from this journey.
If the last 15 years is anything to go by, then just as you think things have reach their peak and will settle down, there’s another paradigm waiting just over the horizon. It seems like we are currently experiencing the beginnings of this again, and once more things will change forever.
The App is dead. Long live the App.
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