How the Future of Mobile Apps Impacts Ads and Brands

The future of mobile apps will create new avenues for mobile ads. But it all starts with user experiences.
BY Taylor Davidson | November 11th, 2014
Copake Lake, NY

Paul Adams, writing about the future of apps:

The experience of our primary mobile screen being a bank of app icons that lead to independent destinations is dying. And that changes what we need to design and build. … The idea of an app as an independent destination is becoming less important, and the idea of an app as a publishing tool, with related notifications that contain content and actions, is becoming more important. This will change what we design, and change our product strategy.

Many people have shared this post as "the end of apps", but they leave off the "as we know them" part. It’s really a post about the future of apps, and about how tomorrow’s apps won’t be built like today’s apps. This a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past six months, writing about cards, deep linking, unbundling, single-purpose apps, and more. Paul’s insight is that the changes in iOS and Android to bring notifications to the forefront of how we interact and utilize apps, and the opportunity to use cards inside notifications, carrying both content and full product experiences, will push apps to services, away from the siloed app experience and toward more integrated user experiences across apps, powered by the operating system itself.

In plain English? That means you won’t jump from app to app, copying information from one to other. No more opening photos, editing, saving, re-opening, saving, re-opening, and posting. More efficient interactions, better user experiences, better products. And new opportunities for companies to build new things people endurably love.

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How does this impact brands?

The history of brands building apps has been mixed, with a couple success stories (Disney, Starbucks, Delta, Chase, for example) and a lot of failures, built for campaigns and short-lived programs instead of long-term, repeat usage. Many brands have struggled to develop mobile services to match their existing service channels, struggled to drive adoption, struggled to support mobile initiatives long-term. Mobile has been a channel for marketing rather than a channel for delivering valuable services.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, however: mobile is turning out to be as big a disruption in value creation and delivery than the Internet was itself. 1 Restructuring a company to use new mediums such as the Internet or mobile to deliver existing services is incredibly difficult. It’s fundamentally difficult for incumbents to disrupt themselves. Restructuring a company to deliver services digitally (Internet or mobile) is structurally difficult, or perhaps impossible; but it’s easy to use these new mediums to deliver ads.

A shift away from apps as destinations, and towards apps as delivery systems, puts a new set of pressures on brands to find ways to deliver valuable services.

  • How can you deliver ads adjacent to content if the content is served in a card?
  • If apps become delivery systems instead of destinations, how can brands help deliver value instead of ads?
  • How can brands utilize notifications to deliver value, instead of merely seeing them as new ad inventory?
  • How can brands interact with wearable devices, using them to deliver value rather than avenues for personal data collection and highly-targeted ads?

For the record, I think there are winning answers there, and that brands have the opportunity to deliver valuable services to people, but before one starts thinking about ads, we have to think about user experiences first.

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The real question is to consider how the user experience of mobile will change, because popular consumer experiences dictate winning advertising experiences.

Consider Apple Watch and the creative challenges it poses for brands:

Investor and writer Taylor Davidson (who has written about the Apple Watch) agreed the field is still open. "I don’t think people can quite imagine what new promotions are possible until we get a feel for the total UX of Watch.

"I think the Watch experience will push companies and app developers to think of intelligent ways to reach people through Apple Watch," he continued. "The experience is unique enough from existing devices that simply applying the same ad models would be a mistake by all involved (Apple, app developers, advertisers). And I think Apple realizes that and will limit advertisements in Watch.

"Watch, from a UX perspective, opens opportunity for interesting new advertising and promotional opportunities, but it takes time for developers and people to create the shared experience that will create the footbed for promotional advertisements.

What’s the right "native" ad to fit the user experience in a wearable device?

The end of apps as we know them creates the opportunity to reimagine and recreate the ideal app experience. And down the pipe, it will also allow us to reimagine and recreate the ideal ad experience.


  1. Perhaps even bigger