A decade ago, the homepage or as many called it “the portal” business was something great to be in. Aol, Yahoo, and many others had built companies worth tens of billions of dollars off of this user experience. The homepage was meant to be the compilation of all the things you – the user – would need to do with the internet – check stocks, mail, your finances, the weather, the news, and more. Fast forward to the mobile era and the homepage as we know it is dead. It’s been replaced by the home screen on our phone.
Unbundle or die
Every single company is going to have to rethink the way they do business. There can no longer be an app that does absolutely everything. Companies will need to fight for dominance in each category and create stand alone apps. We’ve seen Facebook do this recently with Paper and Messenger. Google has been doing this successfully for years by releasing individual apps for YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Chrome, Drive and more.
Build for daily habits
When you think about “What should I build for”, you should start thinking about a user’s daily habits. The home screen is a sacred space for mobile users and only a small handful of apps make it there. After the home screen you’re relegated to secondary pages or *gasp* folders on secondary pages. To make it onto a user’s home screen, app developers need to build an app that becomes a daily habit. Users unlock their phone over 150 times a day and do so to readily access tasks they need all day long – mail, browsing, tweeting, messages,etc. Ask yourself “How can I become a daily habit as well?”
Create network effects
Creating a large, lasting company based upon one app alone is going to be hard. It’s behind Facebook buying Instagram and Twitter buying Vine. Creating one app with massive traction is hard, so how does one get hit by lighting twice or three times? Follow the formula above, but network them all together to drive traffic through all of your apps. Yahoo has done this very successfully by having a common slider that exists throughout all of its apps. Remember though, the product still has to be great – Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users did not help Poke a one bit.
Linking will be the tie that binds
Many home pages and early properties created power by linking to others. Getting a link from Yahoo or Aol could instantly “make” companies. Many could consider Google a “homepage”, which gained prominence by linking out to elsewhere. The emergence of deep linking is going to allow apps to not only create network effects, but also start to drive traffic to other useful apps. Those that can start to drive traffic will start to gain dominance and favor with smaller companies. In essence, it’s doing exactly what worked many years ago for the mobile age.
Focus on getting mobile web users to add to home screen
Browsing is a daily habit that will never go away, just the same way email never will. We’ve seen that the browser is the single biggest “daily habit” for users. Creating apps doesn’t make sense for a publisher due to costs and it only impacting a small portion of their audience – but getting on the home screen does for their most loyal of users. Adding to home screen is when a user creates a bookmark in mobile Safari and chooses to add it to their home screen with a nice icon, making it look like an app. We see that when a user adds a site from the mobile web to their home screen, they are almost 9x as engaged.
Android launchers are going to be the next big “thing”
Many think it’s about controlling many apps aka many pieces of the home screen, just like Yahoo and Aol wanted to control all the pieces a decade ago -finance/sports/news/weather/etc. Then came Google, who wanted to control the homepage as a launching pad to drive you to other places as fast as possible. That’s what Android launchers will do – control the home screen to send you to daily habits from other developers. An Android launcher may be the “next Google” in that it drives traffic to other apps and helps you discover what you need.
We’re still in the early days of the mobile post-PC era. Comparably, we’re not even at where the web was in 1999. Everything is still up for grabs and the players of the previous era are fighting for survival. It’s a fun time with tons of opportunities, the biggest of which is owning a piece of every user’s home screen.