A Eulogy For Dead Standalone Apps

Mobile isn’t easy. Suddenly “more” wasn’t the answer. A website could do everything and it’d work fine. An app has to do just enough.

Session lengths started to be counted not in hours or even minutes, but in seconds. Software had to blend into our life, augmenting it rather than supplanting it. Speed and simplicity became the keys to success. And it all came down to nailing something specific.

The shift to mobile was a philosophical one, not just a matter of shrinking functionality to fit a smaller screen. The tech giants needed to study that philosophy. But not in a library. In the lab inside our pockets. Whether built or bought, standalone apps help older companies determine what mobile means to them, even in death. That’s why companies keep releasing and acquiring them.

IMG_4102Dropbox learned of efficiency with Mailbox, but also how to focus. Carousel taught it how to make something robotic more lively, though the price has to be right. Rooms gave Facebook a deeper knowledge of spawning communities, but demonstrated that they can’t be forced. Slingshot showed it how the art of creation could be immersive, yet there’s a difference between gimmicks and game-changers.

Square dipped its toes in a big market with Order, but found it easier to acquire Caviar than recreate it. #Music pushed Twitter to embrace multi-media, even if consumption doesn’t require a second product. eBay sought speed through Now, but also saw its demographic didn’t need it. Google examined humanity’s flaws with Helpouts, but realized it’s not that touchy-feely. And with Songza, Google tried browsing instead of search, but realized they were best combined.

When a students graduates, no one frames it as them killing off their academic career. Sure, some stay scientists whose experiments become longstanding research projects. But more often, the student takes what they learned to go build some bigger, better, with more real-world purpose.

So if we’re to liken the shut down of standalone apps to death, let us remember them for what they contributed as well as the resources they required. None were raised thinking they’d be as famous as their parents, whose deep pockets made their “failures” less painful .

What matters is whether they educated more than they distracted. I think most did.