Are There Too Many 'Apps for That?'

Smartphone "app fatigue" is setting in as many users ditch the abundance of options.

by Drew Dixon, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville / July 25, 2016

(TNS) — Most smartphone and tablet users know the routine: You get a new device and there are dozens of new downloadable applications to help make using the device more fun and even more helpful.

There are thousands of apps, from weather to banking to traffic to games to news outlets to social media to television streaming and just about anything else.

Within the past decade, an advertising campaign coined the slogan “there’s an app for that” meant to illustrate the ubiquitousness and utility of apps.

But many phone users won’t open those apps more than once or twice, settling for just a few that are used on a regular basis. The choices are just too many.

With this array of apps available on an iPhone or Android mobile store these days — most for free — many people are getting apped out.

“App fatigue is definitely an issue,” said Angela Mattia, associate professor of information management at Jacksonville University. “But I also think that they’ve been useful. Times are changing again because there are so many out there and people are so overloaded with them that the ah-ha moment and ‘this is great, let me run out and get it’ is not happening anymore.”

Even at Jacksonville-based Web.com, which develops internet sites, social media placement and online marketing plans for over 3 million small businesses, officials acknowledge mobile device applications need to adapt to higher expectations from users.

“You only use an app if it provides value to your life,” said Vikas Rijsinghani, executive vice president of Web.com. “A lot of apps have a quality that is low.

“If you get a good quality app out there, it will take off. The latest case is Pokemon Go,” where mobile device users engage in an elaborate scavenger hunt using an app, Rijsinghani said.

That app, he said, was a phenomenon proving that the concept of the app is far from dead. It comes amid intense pressure for app developers to make programs that are engaging and not just rote.

“Within days that [Pokemon Go] app was around the world. Why that app and not others? It’s because it provided value. It provided fun. It provided something new that wasn’t available,” Rijsinghani said. “It hit a market desire for something that didn’t exist before. In this case, it was geospacial game playing.”

Rijsinghani said he’s not quite ready to buy entirely into the concept of app fatigue. Rather he sees sharp demand for app quality.

“What is happening is not necessarily app fatigue, it’s just an increase in expectations of quality and value. If they’re a million apps that fall below that threshold, they will come and go,” Rijsinghani said.

‘The Noise Is There’

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer their own apps, which have started to provide robotic services for users that “aggregate” information based on their internet use patterns along with trends from friends connected to the user.

On Facebook, for instance, a “newsfeed” provides a list of posts from friends and also incorporates advertisements and merchandise links to the user.

It’s impressive in terms of the organization of the information for users on social media, Mattia said. But if someone is only using Facebook once a day, there could be hundreds of listings that are missed because people don’t have infinite amounts of time to check everything.

“Think of it like a commercial on television and how that evolved. It’s to the point where we don’t pay attention. We run to the kitchen because a commercial’s on,” Mattia said. “It’s exactly the same thing [on social media]. The noise is there. …

“You end up missing things, and it causes you to be less effective because we’re all deleting emails, newsfeeds or things we can’t get to even though we’d love to. The noise becomes so loud, you have to try to wade through it,” Mattia said.

On that end, Mattia agrees with Rijsinghani that this is a critical time for social media and app developers in re-examining what makes effective mobile device usage.

One First Coast business is attempting to address the app fatigue and social media letdown trend. HI-FI based in Ponte Vedra Beach is a startup technology firm that recently launched a service that essentially amounts to an anti-app app.

Winder Hughes, a former investment broker and fund manager, founded HI-FI three years ago and said his app is designed to aggregate information for users who can set up their own custom menus for whatever their interests are.

“For users, we’re trying to save them time. That is the biggest problem out there today in social media. People waste too much time going to too many places looking for stuff that is irrelevant. There’s an enormous cost to society that’s going on around that,” Hughes said Tuesday.

Hughes’s company’s website, lifeinhifi.com, explains that the new app is designed to provide ease of use. The site features newly coined terms such as “tagtopics” and marketing assertions such as it is “revolutionizing the hashtag.”

Beyond the hipster nomenclature in HI-FI’s marketing material, Hughes said his company’s new app is ultimately a funnel for what otherwise is an unwieldy expanse of mobile information that was formerly accessed through internet browsers, which are mostly bypassed on mobile devices these days.

The app’s custom organization draws from website content, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, hashtag references and other sources from information providers.

“This is a place where they can instantly connect with the stuff that they care about in the way that we’ve architected it. It’s the same way that users used to connect with stuff that they cared about with their web browsers,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the HI-FI app could eliminate the need for app development by many businesses that spend countless dollars to develop apps that often end up being devoid of use.

HI-FI and its half dozen employees already have some investors, and Hughes is hoping for more. A total of $2.5 million has been invested in the company, Hughes said, and though he acknowledged it’s a “high risk” venture at this time, he’s confident the app will get traction.

Universal Remote Control

Mattia said she likes HI-FI’s concept, though she had not sampled the app. But she compared it to the concept of a universal remote control for home television and entertainment centers. The universal remote sounded like a great concept, but was so complicated for users and kids in homes that many gave up on the effort to program one remote that would control everything.

In terms of readiness, there were some stumbles for HI-FI this year when the company issued a news release in February promising a launch of the app that month.

That did not happen, and several subsequent attempts failed before it was finally launched this month.

Still, Rijsinghani said he’s intrigued by the HI-FI development.

“It’s a noble attempt,” Rijsinghani said. “This specific implementation has two challenges: It requires publishers to put content on their platform. And it requires consumers to look to that destination for content. …”

He said how it plays out will be a fascinating case study.

“There are large aspirations of gaining traction, lots of risk involved, lots of places where it can fizzle out. There’s lots of investment required to gain distribution and awareness,” Rijsinghani said, adding the HI-FI app may not replace anything, but it might make getting information easier.

The HI-FI mobile lifestyle network free updated app was added to the iPhone app store this month and is expected to be available on the Android mobile play store within three months.
 
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