Earlier, the dominant platform was the OS — DOS, and then Windows. Then came the web, and the focus shifted from native apps to web apps. With the smartphone revolution, the pendulum swung back to native apps.
Benedict Evans, a brilliant analyst, says:
We’re looking for a new run-time - a new way, after the web and native apps, to build services. That might be Siri or Now or messaging or maps or notifications or something else again. But the underlying aim is to construct a new search and discovery model - a new way, different to the web or app stores, to get users.
Fred Wilson then suggested that we’ll have many new runtimes, not just one:
I think there won’t be one runtime in the mobile era. I think what is emerging is multiple runtimes depending on the context – “contextual runtimes.”
If I’m building a lunchtime meal delivery service for tech startups, that’s a Slack bot.
If I’m building a ridesharing service, that’s going to run in Google Maps and Apple Maps.
If I’m building a “how do I look” fashion advisor service, that’s going to run in Siri or Google Now.
If I’m building an “NBA dashboard app”, that is mostly going to run on the mobile notifications rails.
This is a fascinating discussion. Let’s see what some of these new platforms might entail.
To begin with, messaging as a runtime makes sense for services that are based on questions and answers, like web search.
Complex UIs like Uber don’t belong in a messaging app:
This is a mess. Don’t shove a UI with a message and buttons into a message. This makes as little sense as having a command-line in a web app.
Messaging-driven UIs make sense for queries, searches and other information retrieval-type stuff. I’m sure there will be other good uses, but I can’t see them yet.
Moving on to maps, if maps is to become a platform, the “apps” on that platform would be associated with a physical place in the real world.
Perhaps the platform can track what products and services are available at a given location and when. This can be pretty general: is an iPhone available in this shop? When does a match happen in this stadium? When will there be a sermon in this church? At what times can I get a haircut in this saloon? And so on.
Product availability, in particular, can just track what products the shop sells at all. Or, it can hook into the shop’s inventory system and let you know not just whether this shop sells iPhones, but whether one is in stock right now.
With this, you’ll be able to search for a product you want to buy, not just the name of the shop. Maps can look inside the shop to tell you what they sell and whether it’s in stock now. You might also be able to do a search for an iPhone, and sort the results by price, rather than by distance. And you can click a button to jump seamlessly into an app or web site to complete the transaction. Or call an Uber to go there.
If you want to buy something, Maps can notify you when you’re near a shop that sells that. There are many possibilities here.
It will be interesting to see how these novel platforms evolve, and what kind of apps we will all be using five years from now, whether Maps, Google Now or Siri, Slack or WhatsApp. Or something entirely new. The future sounds fun.