The app of the future

What would you do if you want to create the app of the future? An app that takes a leap forward and changes the way we think about apps? Would you use virtual reality? Would you make your app intelligent (watch out!)? That'd be fine, but these are just means to walk in a certain direction, not a goal in itself. I guess what I'm talking here is: what is the new computing paradigm? A paradigm that changes the way we use technology?

We've already discussed here that we've gone through 2 paradigms already: from functionality to convenience. In the era of functionality we crammed more and more features into our computers, making them ever more powerful by allowing applications to do more things. That era (the Microsoft Office era) ended up pushing people out by making the use of computers difficult, due to the complexity that resulted from working on a functionality paradigm. A new era starts: covenience. In this era usability is optimized, we craft the term user expericience and we compete in a subtle art: making apps powerful but easy to use. This era is not only the result of technological progress (mobile computing) but also sociological conditions: too many people intimidated by computers and little time to learn. In this era we reduce the friction required to use our apps aiming to increase the frequency. Now is when you take a photo, apply a beautiful filter to it and share it with friends in exactly 3 taps. Now is when millions of photos are shared everyday.

We left that post with a question: what would shape the next era? We hinted that opportunities will lie in the very problems that convenience creates, as counterintuitive as it sounds. Same way as too many features created a field of opportunity.

My take on the next era is: relevance.

Reduced friction has increased frequency, we all use our new computers now, and that is creating new interaction problems: we are drowning. News feeds, blog posts (sorry I'm contributing), notifications, messages, whatsapps, ... They are all byproducts of the convenience era, and are creating the problems of the future. We need to filter out stuff. We need technology to stay relevant to us.

Relevance is contextual: depends on the user (I want different things than you), depends on the purpose (sometimes I want to read, sometimes I want to share), depends on the moment (I want something different on weekdays than on weekends).

I'm not exactly discovering a new world here. We've been talking about curation for years now. But it has always been discussed in the context of content consumption. Even in this context, progress has been pretty organic I would say. Look at how Spotify tries to be relevant.


It offers us a set of playlists depending on the context. But please notice that the context depends on exactly one variable: time. Playlists are human curated, which is another attempt at relevance: someone supposedly more skilled than us has made a selection for a particular context. Good. You know what'd be even better? That Spotify knew that at 6.30am I'm always playing instrumental music because I'm programming, but then at 8.30 I always prefer something more uplifting during my commute. That'd be relevant.

Amazon tries to be relevant too when they offer you suggestions, but surprisingly Twitter does not even try (I always get a list of tweets ordered by time). Facebook and Google try desperately to be relevant, it is inherent to their business model. They need to track you, profile you, to show you more relevant adds. Relevance comes with its own risks (privacy), or course, and we'd better be prepared when everyone, not only add sellers, want to compete in the relevance field.

Relevance is less obvious when we move from content consumption to functional applications, but I believe the concept still applies. Can someone beat Evernote by introducing relevance in the way we take and review notes? Can we improve relevance in our productivity apps? Sure we can, but it's a radical shift in the interaction model. We need to move away from building features and exposing them clearly and conveniently (intuitive approach) to a model where the app takes its chances at guessing what's relevant and engages in a dialog with the user. Radical shift, but worth exploring.

There you go. Want to create the app of the future? Think about relevance, change the way features and content is exposed, and try to make friends with the user. Not a piece of cake, but that's what it takes to ride a wave that isn't quite there yet.