Need an app that lets us do everything at once

Need an app that lets us do everything at once

Gizmo ZONE

Need an app that lets us do everything at once

Would you want to be able to book a taxi from your email programme? How about being able to send emails from your music organiser? Or maybe you’d like to be able to order a pizza while using your dating app?

Unlikely scenarios, all three; and yet many of the apps that we use would like to be able to encompass functionalities as diverse as that. It was part of the integrated approach that Microsoft’s Windows Phone introduced in 2010 with its “People Hub” idea.

That didn’t have much success, arguably because it was too early and the implementation wasn’t great. But the idea that when you communicate, you want to be able do all sorts of communication — whether via Facebook or Twitter or text or email — is one that is catching on in a big way. As a result, some apps are beginning to suffer from a sort of late-teenage bloat.

Eery app, after all, wants to be the one where you spend all your time. But on mobile, the risks associated with overloading the user interface mean that established products tend to splinter instead.

WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, dwarfs most western products both in scale – it has around 700 million active accounts – and ambition: despite being first released only in January 2011 as a text/voice/photo-sharing app, it has expanded to provide functionality so that you can order cabs, buy film tickets, play games, check in for flights, pay bills … the list goes on and on.

So why don’t we have a WeChat in the West? Facebook comes closest, but as noted above, it’s splitting apart on mobile.  China, WeChat’s home ground, never went through the same desktop evolution — it jumped direct to mobile,. We tend to praise apps that “do one thing well” — and then grumble because they can’t do some specific thing that we alone want to do.

This desire to be everything to everyone marks WeChat out — but it’s obvious that Facebook and WhatsApp want to do the same; in India, WhatsApp already serves some commercial functions as a link between businesses.

Global ambition may mean globally large app functionality, rather than siloed mobile apps with single functions like Uber.

In a few years, individual apps may have been swallowed into bigger ones. Need a cab? In the future it might be as easy as opening your camera app; Uber is already part of Messenger in some US cities.