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Hike Founder: ‘Apps Will Be Dead in 5 Years’

One big issue has been hanging over this year’s Web Summit, the tech cornucopia that inspired over 70,000 investors, corporate giants, and startup hopefuls to flock to Lisbon this week. No, it’s not the specter of a Donald Trump presidency. Instead, it’s the sudden decline of apps, which casts a cloud over the optimistic pitches that tech companies like to tout with every mobile release.

As Recode reported this summer, the average American smartphone user now downloads zero new apps each month. New apps aren’t the only ones taking a hit. Downloads of the 15 most popular apps are down 20 percent year over year as well.

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However, apps in developing markets have avoided such a fate. India’s Hike Messenger, for instance, has grown to 100 million users over the past few years, and over 90 percent of its users fall between the ages of 15 and 24. It’s the messaging world’s latest unicorn, valued at $1.4 billion after a recent $175 million venture round led by Chinese digital giant Tencent.

“All apps will be dead in five years.”

At the helm of Hike is 28-year-old Kavin Bharti Mittal—the son of Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises and the 13th richest man in the world. During an interview with me on stage at Web Summit, Bharti made a surprising prediction about the global app ecosystem: “All apps will be dead in five years.”

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Photos by Martijn Arets

Mittal sees apps as a fragmented system that’s quickly going out of style. “The most natural way to interact [with a brand] is like this, just as we are now,” he said.

Mittal’s vision is similar to one laid out by James Temperton in his Wired UK piece from this week, “Apps are dying. Long live the subservient bots ready to fill your every desire.” In the story, Temperton colorfully describes the future we may soon inhabit:

It’s Friday, November 2, 2018. You’ve just walked into your kitchen after a long week. “Play Etta James,” you say. “At Last” starts playing throughout the house. Your phone vibrates in your pocket; a notification on the screen reads “Return flight to Toronto now £220 per person. Book?” You type “Yes” and confirm your identity using the phone’s thumbprint reader. You open the kitchen cupboard and scan for ingredients to cook before returning to your phone and entering two emoji: pizza, wine. Twenty minutes later, the doorbell rings.

Think of the last interaction you had with a software application. You likely used a mouse, keyboard or touchscreen to navigate a series of options to complete a task. In doing so you were forced to follow the rules of software laid down more than 30 years ago; it is the software that dictates the rules of engagement, not you. Now, thanks to bots, those rules are changing.

In other words, instead of using different apps to do different things, we’ll simply start interacting with our favorite companies through a central messaging system that allows us to conversationally ask for what we want.

This forecast jives with Facebook’s plans for Messenger, which could transform e-commerce through “social commerce” that lets consumers make purchases with a more natural approach (think: “Send me three more shirts like the one I just bought”) rather than laboring through an arduous online checkout. Companies like KLM Airlines have already run successful e-commerce trials through Messenger. In China, Tencent’s WeChat has become a replacement for the entire web, allowing users to shop, order food, and hail ride shares.

Before long, the cliché “There’s an app for that” may soon be succeeded by a different retort: “That’s so 2016.”

Image by Palau83 / Getty
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