The arrival of invisible apps (part 1)

Admit it, we have become slaves of our own screens, some even speak of the 'screen generation' and they are right. 
With the new devices that are out on the market such as smart watches and Apple TV’s, our screen time increases every day. In addition all kinds of services and support are further digitized. mobile-labs



Striking the most is the fact that we actually don’t even care about it. On the contrary: we cherish all these apps and their ability to inform, assist us and help us to kill some time, every single day, with unique wow-experiences. The numbers don’t lie, there are as many as 1.5 million applications in the Apple App Store and 1.6 million in Google Play Store. 

But slowly we start to see the negative side of all these apps. When I look at my smartphone today I see a screen full of icons from apps I barely use. I’d rather not want to remove them as the chance that I unexpectedly need them, one day, is real. There are also quite some apps with overlapping functionalities: sometimes they just offer something extra, a reason to love them anyway. According to some sources people use about 26 different apps a month. I have not counted them, but I guess I’ll come close to that.

To open an app, I rather use the search functionality instead of swiping through all app icons on my home screen. When I don’t have my hands-free, when I am driving for instance, I use Siri to launch apps.

I leave some applications installed because I believe they will suddenly become more interesting after an update. The update process on smartphones seems to become a fulltime job. Yes, I know updating can be updated automatically in the background, but I prefer to keep this process manual. That way I see what’s new. (Are there additional functionalities, unexpected advertisements or ‘in-app’-purchases on top of the main app features?)

Apps are closed containers

Let us take a look at how people use apps: you have a specific need, you search an app, you open it, execute an action and then you open another app... This process goes through the whole day, again and again. Actually, the applications are completely working on their own, with their own functionalities, problems and experiences. They are shielded from each other and can only talk if they are open towards other apps and if the developers really want it.

It’s about time that the containers are opened so that the information and services can be seen and used by other applications. They need to be able to join forces, and eliminate their own weaknesses to deliver even better services to the end user. Each application can thus be lifted to a higher level.

I often compare applications with the vital organs of an organism. We have organs to see, feel, hear, think, move, etc… These organs all smoothly work together over the nerves and send pulses to the brains that handle all this beautifully. These organs also work bi-directionally and send active pulses. Fortunately, imagine that we would have to approach all of these organs separately to get answer on a specific question. I don’t have to ask my stomach if it can properly handle the doner kebab of last night. No, they let me know with the necessary signals through different organs. All pulses arrive in the brain which knows what to do. I see the operating system as the body and the brain in which the data of the apps is processed with smart algorithms. All apps are connected with nerves and I can ask both specific data or they send me the necessary data when I need them.

We see that parties like Google launces different apps with their own specific functionalities. You log in with your Google account and they all speak with each other. Additionally, you see that a lot of parties make their API’s available today to third parties. Thus unique functionalities of one or more applications can be used in other apps, so they can offer new services. The strengt is in partnership!

Smart phones but dumb apps

If applications wish to draw your attention they do so in a fairly simplistic way: they send push notifications. You tap on the push notification and the application opens, you do your thing and close the application. We cannot call this smart. In addition, the number of applications that are claiming your attention is only increasing. Unfortunately, the trend is that almost all applications can send push notifications even though the added value is very often quite limited. For example: I have an m-commerce app that reminds me every 5 minutes that I have placed something in my basket. Panicky the push notifications asks if I did not forget to complete my order because tomorrow the price of the item may be higher.

I suspect that you will show the same behavior: in the beginning I always accepted push notifications but today I block them all or it has to be really vital to get the push notifications.

You also need to manage all these push notifications: in the operating system, in the application itself and if you are (un)lucky to have a wearable you may also need to indicate it there for what you want to be harassed. What if we need to start doing this soon for our IOT devices? Totally unsustainable and therefore there have to be new systems that are smart enough to send you a relevant message in the right moment, in the right context.

Simple is hard. Easy is harder. Invisible is hardest. —Jean-Louis Gassée, 2008

If the apps need to be able to do this, or better the owners/builders of the app, they really need to know you well. So they should know that, if I work at home that I never drive the kids to school so I don’t need a notification that there is a traffic jam on the way to school, let alone on the way to work.

Systems like (IfThisThenThat) allow you to define this decision tree and to define their actions manually. Do you think that you have made “a good decision tree” then you can share him with others. So you can set in that if AA Gent scores you get a push notification with the score, your Philips Hue lights flash white/blue for 3 seconds, your Spotify echoes “We are the champions” and your partner gets a message that you will be home later because you want to go off for a drink with your mates.


I don’t know about you but I don’t want, let alone I have the time, to reconstruct all my habits and needs to set up a decision tree.
No, I what that my smartphone is smart enough to know my behavior. Luckily humans are creatures of habit and intelligent software is able to learn our habits (behind our backs). Google, Apple, Amazon and others have been doing this for a long time but for now this is still limited in use.

A good example of how intelligent and accurate these Ambient intelligence systems can be is the demo application of the Belgian startup Sentiance. With their demo application Journeys you can visualize your own behavior with the help of various sensors in your smartphone. You can see, among other things, where you have been but also how your driving style is and what your favorite shop is. Clever is that the application creates your profile or “persona” without your intervention. This kind of information is invaluable for marketers and forms the basis for personalized services. You can build such systems in your own apps to start to know your users much better. It is, of course, recommend that you mention this in your application.

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