Google and Apple Are Trying to Kill Off Apps

Wired wrote a piece about how Apple and Google are trying hard to kill off apps. In part, I buy what Wired says – that it is about the user experience and if you can seamlessly integrate that experience into the platform (iPhone or Android) then you don’t really care about the app.  I think there is another part and there are some problems with the concept.  Still people will probably get sucked in (see article).

In some sense, they are right – from a user’s viewpoint, they don’t really care about most apps – they care about accomplishing the task.  For example, do users care about using Google maps in particular or do they care about getting where they are going quickly and easily?  I bet it is the second.  However, remember when Apple came up with their own mapping software and had people driving off the road.  Functionality IS important.

But let me present another, more cynical, suggestion.  Money.

Let’s say you are an iTunes user (which is free) and you load your music onto your phone.  Some music you buy from the iTunes store;  other music you trade with friends (likely illegal, but still done – a lot) while still other music you download/buy from other sites such as a band’s site.

With this model, let’s say you buy 4 songs a month from the iTunes store.  Apple gets $4, a lot of which goes to third parties.  Some months you might not buy anything.  On the other hand, if you subscribe to Apple Music – and at that point you don’t really care about what app delivers it, effectively ‘killing’ the app, you pay $10 a month for you or $15 a month for your family.  In this case, Apple gets $120 to $180 a year, whether you use it or not.  And if it works like Spotify and other streaming services, the artists get almost nothing.

Which would you rather have $4 a month maybe or $10 a month guaranteed.  And if you don’t pay, you lose all your music.

The model of killing the app is about getting people to use services and generating dependable monthly recurring revenue or MRR as it is called.

The upside for the user is ease of use, available everywhere and a better user experience (maybe – that wasn’t the case with Apple maps).

The downsides are many:

  • Unlike with an app, if you stop paying you may well lose access to whatever the data is
  • You may get hooked on the service while it is free and then discover you have to pay for it (this is why Apple Music is free for the first three months).
  • What if you decide there is a better service.  Can you EASILY transfer your data?  With Apple Music you don’t own anything, so that is about as easy as it gets. Stop paying Apple.  Start paying whoever and use the new service.  That doesn’t always work.  For example, a friend was talking about Google’s new photo service.  At the moment, it happens to be free, but certainly that could change.  She said she uploaded 3,000 photos and Google looked at all of her pictures and created a nice search experience.  What if she wanted to change to Apple’s photo service (or vice versa).  How easy would it be to extract those 3,000 photos (or 10,000 or whatever) and how long would it take. You likely will lose all the meta data about the photos.
  • These vendors might be selling your data (such as your photo subjects or your music taste, for example).  The terms of service probably allow them to do that.  If you decide a some point that you don’t like that and delete your account, that data probably continues to live and be associated with you.
  • Obviously with the Patriot Act and other laws, life is much easier for law enforcement.  If they want something they just go to the service vendor and ask.  No one tells you either before or after the fact.  That’s just a feature of the cloud unless the data is encrypted with a key that only you know.  If the app lives on your phone, that is likely much harder for the cops to secretly check out.
  • What happens if the vendor decides to shut down the service like Google did with Google Health.  Google did give people warning and did, kind of, give people a way to export their data – it wasn’t very pretty but you could get your data.  When encrypted email vendor Lavabit shut down, they were just gone.  People bitched a lot.  They could not get to their emails.  Some number of weeks later Lavabit did reactivate their servers for a little bit to allow people to download their messages, but there is no law that says that they have to.  And if the company goes out of business, you may just be out of luck.
  • If (or when) you die, can your estate get your data out of the service.  Facebook just created such a concept.  For many services, if you have the password, no one is the wiser that the person is no longer on this plain, but no guarantees.

This does not mean that you should not buy in to their story. It just means that you should consider what you are buying in to.  See if that works for you.  See if you should be making offline backups.

It’s a brave new world.  Hang on for the ride.


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