Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Unbundling of apps : A very effective strategy

Allow me to begin with a very clichéd adage: Big things come in small packages. While that has always been the case with most devices (and everything for that matter!), a recent trend is now being observed when it comes to applications offering more than one functionality. Big enterprises which had multi-functionality applications are now assigning these functionalities to new standalone applications.

And that, essentially, is the inclination that I will be talking about here: unbundling of applications, and their impact.

BRANDS WHICH HAVE ALREADY SIGNED UP FOR THIS STRATEGY

We have the usual suspects: Google and Facebook. The ‘Google Drive’ desktop version is very different from the mobile version – there are separate applications for Docs, Slides and Sheets. Likewise, there’s the case with Facebook with its standalone Messenger App.

Also included is Foursquare, with its new applications – the original Foursquare and Swarm. And Microsoft Office too is coming out with standalone applications for the iOS platform.

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(Source : CB Insights)

If I were to list them out:

Facebook : 6 standalone applications.
LinkedIn : 6 standalone applications.
Instagram : 3 standalone applications.
Target (We kid you not) : 7 standalone applications.

There’s Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter –

Long story short, unbundling of applications is turning out to be quite the trend, and it is soon to catch on.

WHAT’S SO GREAT IN UNBUNDLING?

We’ll look at this conundrum from two aspects – as a consumer, and as a developer.

FOR THE CONSUMER

Let’s have an analogy. Suppose you get a swanky new phone. It’s got top of the line features, great processing power, brilliant camera, the works. Now what if it comes with a particular feature which MIGHT not be needed now, or even in the future? A sensor here, an inbuilt application there? The particular feature will be ignored completely, and will never really be used.

Likewise, let’s see this with an application in mind. Any feature – which is not really needed – contributes to the file size and is redundant. A better approach would be to have a specific feature as a separate application – so that people interested in THAT feature know which application to actually install! In other words, an expansion pack of sorts!

And that’s where the perspective of the application developer comes into the equation.

FOR THE DEVELOPER

From a developer’s perspective, unbundling offers endless potential for improvement. The process of unbundling brings to the table a lot of scope for future developments and a better streamline of the overall activity.

1) SMOOTHER DESIGN

App developers would agree with me when I say that developing an app is a headache on multiple levels. Besides the actual performance of the application to execute its function suitably, the application must also be aesthetically pleasing and have a smooth flow of operation for the end user.

Sometimes, it is just better to break away specific functions (which might show signs of popularity) and create new applications, just so that development SPECIFIC TO THAT FEATURE can be made.

It’s like having modules in an application, say Application X. If a particular Module A is deemed to be more popular, and the audience would like to see more development in that regard, it would make more sense to break off that module from Application X and develop it separately, rather than go over the codes for the entire Application X all over again.

2) AIMED AT A SPECIFIC AUDIENCE

Application X is observed to be popular amongst all age groups. But, Feature A of Application X is more popular amongst people in the 20-30 age group. All the more reason to break off that particular feature to suit the particular audience!


3) ENHANCED CONTROL

Suppose consumer reviews all go like this:

“We want Feature B of Application X to be made better!”

In case of a bundled application, it would imply fine tuning Feature B, making sure no other feature of Application X is affected by it and then posting an update to Application X. This entire process would be made much simpler if Feature B was converted into a specific application, which would lend more control at the developer’s end to fine tune the application according to his/her liking.

To understand it better, let’s consider the Evernote scenario. With its application unbundled, the developers can now get a clear picture of which apps are doing consistently well and which one isn’t.

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Clear understanding implies more control. (Source : CB Insights)


4) COMPANIES NOW BECOME CONGLOMERATES

The companies which started off as application developers are now either going deep into their growth stages, or are going public altogether. Their working now has to become more refined, diverse and powerful.

The wise approach in this scenario would be to have separate applications for various features. This would ensure that they can cope with the pressure from people vying for shares in their companies and also, it reduces the difficulty on the part of the programmer to develop applications which would integrate multiple functions into one.

THE CONS

People do not want separate applications for similar features – taking the Facebook example, it’s quite evident from the number of reviews and workarounds for integrating the Messenger app within Facebook. In a nutshell, people want less applications, because that is undoubtedly simplified.

However, that being said, it’s quite interesting to note that people are now getting more and more used to the Messenger application. In fact, comScore rankings prove that after being unbundled, the Messenger application by itself topped the charts!

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Facebook Messenger tops the popularity charts! (Source : comScore)


FINAL THOUGHTS

Now, the million dollar question is: when should an application be unbundled? I’ve already discussed it in detail, but if you’d like the tl;dr version, here’s it:

When a particular application has a specific feature that might be deemed to be more popular, or might show potential, would actually do well as a standalone application.

(As was the case with the Facebook/Messenger split)

OR,

When a single application has diverse features and functionalities, in a way that managing the codes and updates becomes arduous.

(As was the case with the Foursquare/Swarm split)

Although as of today, only the tech biggies are opting for unbundling, it will soon catch on. With the process of developing applications becoming easier, and the ecosystem teeming with more and more developers, one thing can be for certain: unbundling will be the new trend for applications to come.

Emberify’s take on unbundling: Lately all our big and complex app ideas are broken down into simpler and single use case oriented ones. This way we have acquired users only interested in the single use case boosting app usage and engagement parameters as well.