No, There's Not an App for That

Imagine yourself travelling to the airport. You are running behind schedule. As you launch yourself out the door, you fumble with your smartphone to open the app showing the subway schedule. In the subway, as you gulp your latte, you open the airport train app to see when the next train departs. Finally, you arrive, surrounded by stressed travellers and screaming children: you open an app to locate the gate.

Sounds familiar?

What if you could rewind the above-mentioned scenario?

What if you didn’t need to use apps in the first place? What if everything was taken care of in the background, without you needing to lift a finger?

Scott Jenson, a former Apple and Google alumni, coined the term “Just in-time interaction”. The story above embodies his theory: that apps are something from the past.

For decades we have bought, installed and used software. In the 80s, there were floppy disks, in the 90s there were CDs and DVDs, and now apps, downloaded from Internet. But the paradigm of software installation has got stuck in our habits and mindsets. According to Mr. Jenson, we need a change.

If I look at the wide range of apps that I have, there is an app for an airline, an app for the subway and an app for my local taxi service. It’s pretty awkward: you have to open an app to receive a specific service. You must take the initiative. Why can’t it be the other way around?

Additionally, imagine when the “Internet of Things” becomes a full force reality: when your toaster or your refrigerator is plugged into the web. Will you need to open the refrigerator app to lower the temperature, or the toaster app to toast your bagel? It could get quite absurd.

We are drowning in egotistical apps that only focus on their own service. They don’t care about the journeys we take, for instance, when we are travelling. This is a problem and a great opportunity for us as Experience Designers.

Picture yourself travelling again. You are at home. You wake up next to your smartphone that tells that you have 32 minutes before you need to leave the house to catch the subway. If you want to “snooze”, a cab can be scheduled to pick you up in one hour. However, you decide that you want to take the cheapest way to travel. As you get ready to head out the door, you receive another notification that there is an outage in the subway. To avoid the issue, you order that cab.

As you arrive at the airport, you are informed that you should go to gate 24 F. You are shown a map of the airport and the quickest way to get there.

Doesn’t this sound like a more pleasant experience?

All this without using apps: your smart phone is your concierge, combining knowledge from different data sources (subway, airport, taxi), to provide you with an optimal travelling experience. Services are provided to you in the context of where you are, without you needing to lift a finger.

This is what excites me. Having an open web, where tools and services are contextually delivered to us through our devices.

We should stop thinking “apps” and focus more on context.

Let’s not build more apps; let’s build more useful services.

Are you with me?