Big tech companies are unbundling apps.

Here’s Why Facebook, Google, And Dropbox Are Unbundling Apps

Photo courtesy of Ash Kyd via Flickr.

Over the last few months, there has been a trend among tech companies of unbundling apps, reducing them into smaller, more focused units. Here’s why and what it means.

If you’ve used Facebook, Google Drive, Dropbox, or Foursquare on mobile lately, you’ll probably have noticed that they’ve all split into several smaller apps.

Facebook now has the regular app plus Messenger, Google Drive has Sheets, Slides and Docs, Dropbox has Carousel for stand-alone image uploads, and Foursquare has Swarm for social networking.

The apparent trend has been labeled “The Great Unbundling” by GigaOm.

It may seem counterintuitive – why make users download multiple apps from the same company?

But there several reasons:

Focused user experiences. Developers at Foursquare found that only 5% of its users opened the app to get a restaurant recommendation and to check in, according to The Next Web.

Mostly, they only wanted to do one or the other, so it made sense for the company to separate the functions into different apps, creating a streamlined user experience.

Capture different users. Similarly, some users might only be interested in the Messenger function of Facebook, without having to install the main app. Unbundling apps allows companies to capture users that might otherwise have been put off.

This lines up with Facebook’s acquisition strategy: by buying Instagram and Whatsapp, it’s acquired user bases it might not otherwise have reached.

Resistance to “the next great thing”. By offering multiple services to users, there’s less of chance for the service to be toppled by the next greatest app, the Harvard Business Review argues.

Increases engagement. Because apps by design are “silos” that users don’t navigate away from until they exit the app, they usually spend more a lot more time within the app than on a website. Unbundled, each app invites users to spend more time using it.

The app unbundling trend has been compared to the death of the home page and the atomisation of content, as posts are increasingly distributed and read in a multitude of social channels.

The strategy could carry some risks, however:

User base split. Unbundling apps could risk splitting up user bases. And apps are already having trouble retaining users, with most apps seeing a decline in users after four months.

Necessitates switching. If users do want to use the different services offered by the same company, they have to switch in between the separate apps (like when Facebook Messenger pops up as a little bubble in the main app).

That might be ok on a fast phone, but if it takes more than a couple of seconds it’s going to be an annoying user experience.

Reduces network effect. The network effect that allows people to communicate and influence each other over social can also be lost among siloed apps, especially if there’s a lack of sharing between the apps.

So far, the trend is so new that there’s little data on how successful the trend of unbundling apps has been.

Notably, some other popular apps have avoided bundling in their latest upgrades: Tumblr kept its page editing tool within the main app, as did Snapchat with their messaging feature.

While Facebook has shown that it’s willing to disrupt itself, unbundling apps isn’t necessarily a catch-all solutions for all tech  companies.

Here’s Why Big Tech Companies Are Unbundling Apps

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