“Have you tried our mobile app?” That’s bound to be a pop-up that you’re all too familiar with now, and this week a number of major brands have rolled out new apps in the name of convenience and innovation. Starbucks has brought mobile payments to India through its app and McDonald’s is testing a new ordering app in California. Fair enough ideas on paper, I suppose, but do we really want yet more apps cluttering up our home screens? Perhaps more importantly, are we being taken for fools by allowing more and more brands to secure valuable time in front of our eyes?

I say this because branded apps are virtually everywhere now, yet I question the utility that many actually bring to consumers. Before anyone says what about the Android Authority app, know that I’m not opposed to branded apps in principle. These can be great ways to keep up to date with a specific publication, hobby, or even a brand or set of products that you really care about, when done right. Instead, I’m taking issue with the increasing trend for every little thing to require an app – an app for the sake of having one.

Do we need dedicated apps for the one time that we compare car or travel insurance prices each year? It's also much quicker to 'OK Google' restaurant locations than to open the Burger King app.

Managing my automated home, checking social media, and streaming music or video are all in need of a proper app interface, as the various menus and functions that tie into the wider OS are deserving of some dedicated software. But is ordering a coffee, booking a train ticket, or comparing car insurance quotes really worthy of a dedicated app? Shopping apps, in particular, are becoming my new pet peeve.

See also:

A look at the billion-install club: the most installed apps

January 14, 2017

Building walled gardens

As an experiment, have a browse through high street sports shops or even electronics retailers on the Play Store and they’ll almost certainly have a dedicated app. Rather than providing something more purposeful, like news on new products or previews of upcoming new releases, they’re just carbon copies of their web storefront. Why any of these apps is preferable to a functional and well designed mobile website is beyond me, which is where my cynicism starts to creep in.

If I installed a company's dedicated app for every item of clothing or take-out I've ever bought I probably would have filled my phone's internal storage. What's wrong with a robust mobile webpage?

I don’t know about you, but I always shop around when buying things online. Comparing prices, returns policies, shipping times and so on before I settle on where I want to buy. Obviously, a company would rather you didn’t check out its competitors, and encouraging consumers to buy through an app instead of online makes checking out alternatives that little bit less likely.

Furthermore, you’ll almost always need an account with these apps, and that’s a great way to track your browsing and purchasing habits. It’s cheap data collection for these companies, with tailored recommendations to lure you back into their app. Then there’s the usual loyalty card, bonus points and rewards cards traps tied into these apps too. I may sound cynical, but these apps are all about capturing your long term business and building up that advertising profile, rather than offering us a superior service.

Companies spend a fortune squeezing their logos into magazine and TV ads, and yet with an app they can have their brand in our pockets 24/7 at virtually zero cost.

Then there’s the logo. A big bright Golden Arches or Nike swoosh in your app draw is a subtle reminder to give them some business in the future, even if you swipe past it 20 times a day. Companies spend a fortune squeezing their brand logos into magazine and TV ads, yet with an app they can have their brand in our pockets 24/7 at virtually zero cost.

Proprietary vs universal payments

Going back to the McDonald’s app that they’re trialing in the US or the Starbucks mobile payment rollout, this is just more of the same hidden under a more subtle disguise. There’s no reason why these orders needs to be placed through a dedicated app, in fact this is probably more of a hinderance, as company’s opt for proprietary technology over superior existing platforms. Not to mention that it wasn’t exactly time consuming to place a McDonald’s order anyway.

Firstly, these apps are at best just another layer on top of better platforms. With Android Pay, Apple Pay, or PayPal I can make quick, one tap payments in stores and online, which is wonderfully convenient.

However, if I want to place an order with the Starbucks app, first I have to register for yet another account, even if I want to use an existing mobile payment system. I haven’t a clue why that’s at all necessary. Failing that, all of these are yet more apps that I have to enter my card details into, rather than using helpful options found in web browsers, such as Chrome, that can save my checkout information for a quick purchase.

Between signing up for an account, adding payment options, and topping up your loyalty card, Starbucks has made mobile payments more difficult than they should be.

Secondly, why can’t any of this be done over local Wi-Fi instead of a dedicated app? It would surely be more convenient to connect up to a cafe Wi-Fi, be presented with a menu and make my purchase using Android Pay or a PayPal web checkout. This technology is already around, is just as easy to develop as an app, and is available to anyone as soon as they come into the store, rather than having to pre-install the app or wait for a 10-20 MB app to download.

Why can't cafe or fast food menus and payments be handled over a local Wi-Fi landing page instead of requiring a 20 MB dedicated app?

When it comes to purchasing items online or new innovations for speedy mobile orders, companies and software developers seem to have forgotten the old adage that good software should achieve its goal in as few steps or clicks as possible. I don’t want to have to remember 20 different account details for 20 different clothing and fast food apps when I already have an Android Pay account that I can activate with a simple swipe of my finger.

Reel it in

Ok, I know that no-one is forcing me to use these apps, yet, and I can still get on just fine without them as most places still have functioning mobile websites. That said, the increasing focus on apps could leave mobile websites lacking in important features in the future. Try using Facebook Messenger on a mobile browser, for example.

Maybe I’m relatively alone in finding this a problem though, as many of these branded shopping, food, and other “experience” apps are quite highly rated by users, often receiving 4+ stars. Perhaps a quick link into an app rather than fumbling through browser bookmarks is the type of convenience that consumers are after?

Where do you stand on the prevalence of these trite branded apps? Do you use any of them regularly, or are you frustrated at being asked to install something else on your limited flash memory?

Robert Triggs
Lead Technical Writer at Android Authority, covering the latest trends in consumer electronics and hardware. In his spare moments, you'll probably find him tinkering with audio electronics and programming.
  • patrick

    I somewhat I agree. there are too many useless apps. we download all of these apps and then never use them.

  • That is why I dont install Android Authority app…

    • Bombaglad

      if only this god damn web page wasn’t so cluttered with ads and laggy

      • Peter

        Ironically, Safari on iOS can easily block all ads on AA. Something Chrome cannot do without rooting…

        • Bombaglad

          many android browsers based on chromium support blocking ads without root.. but i need chrome only because of sync

        • mark

          Aside from the fact that plenty of Android browsers support ad-blocking without root, so mentioning IOS is irrelevant, blocking all ads isn’t the issue. I’m happy to have ads, but this website does unfortunately veer towards so many ads that the page becomes near to unusable – whilst oddly people using the application don’t have to see any ads (but the application is far more limited in other ways).

          Apple spam people with more ads than any other company.

          • Benjamin Haube

            I use the AA app on my phone, but when I am using my desktop or chromebook I use an ad blocker for this site in particular. Like the person above, I don’t mind seeing ads, but some sites, including AA, are just ridiculous with ads. The page lags like crazy without ads blocked on my gaming computer with a Core i7 4790K,16GB of ram, and a GTX 1070 even.

        • Use Opera. What iOS got to do.

        • ill Smith

          Netguard, Block this, Adguard, DNS66 can block ads in Chrome without root.

      • Shh… Don’t give ideas. The article already collapses while the ads elaborate.

    • samsung freud

      Funny, I started laughing out loud when i saw your comment!

    • Kunal Narang

      Definitely, their mobile app doesn’t even display all the articles and the Disqus comment framework is always buggy.

  • Iuli S. George

    This won’t be a problem is we adopt “instant apps” from Google.

  • industrial milan

    I prefer to just bookmark their website, and go to their page when I need it.

  • mark

    Couldn’t agree more. Having to install a proprietary native application for every single website? It’s a million times worse than the flash days. In the cases where they are useful (and not something intrinsically related to a phone) it’s annoying when I can’t have an application to run on my laptop, apparently I’m supposed to do everything on my much smaller phone screen.

    In some cases, ordering through phones (whether it’s apps or website) leads to poorer service. There’s a restaurant near me where you order drinks using your phones. I was pleased to see this was a mobile website rather than an application. But what happened in practice was the drinks never turned up, and there were far fewer staff around to flag down.

  • bboyheat

    Why I believe in instant apps or enriched mobile websites..

    Nobody wants all of that clogging up their phones.

  • Morriea

    It is simple for me. IF (this is the BIG ‘IF’), a company has an excellent app​ AND it is one that I will use regularly, then I am likely to download and use it. If it does not fulfill both of these requirements, then no.

    There are not many that do both.

  • Look, who’s saying.

  • Daggett Beaver |dBz| ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    I want an app that guarantees I can get a date with Shania Twain. Other than that, meh.

    • keeeep dreaming keep keeeep dreaming of love…

      • Benjamin Haube

        hahaha too good

    • bboyheat

      Lol. Isn’t she like 60 now?

      (Still hot)

      • Daggett Beaver |dBz| ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        51 and even hotter than ever.

        • bboyheat

          GILF

          • Kunal Narang

            GILF?

          • Per Olsen

            Grandma I …… 😜 I guess.

  • Sim

    I found using a website wrapper app is quite good for saving storage AND having the luxury to open all my not-so-frequently-used apps/websites with one fingertip. It also saves me some battery I guess…

    • Benjamin Haube

      You can make a website wrapper app for any website on the internet with the Chrome app. Just open a page in Chrome and bookmark it as an icon on your home screen. It even takes the favicon for the website and uses that as the homescreen icon. I hope that helps you out. I have done it quite a bit for various websites I want to get to quickly.

  • Debra Dukes

    Very Good Article and I totally agree also they are also making that most need to link up to FB as well.I also don’t need to have all I purchase,Where I go,to me it’s very annoying.And almost stems on creepy.So that trolls can follow every move you make.I used my food shopping app and it keeps all the purchases I make all the way down to what you eat.I almost waiting for someone to ask what is for dinner.🤔

  • George Okenyehike

    Good one

  • sdelfin

    I believe there are some people who, for whatever reason, don’t like using a browser or can’t be bothered to type in addresses or use the bookmarks. They just like the idea of hitting a cute icon on the screen that takes them to wherever by magic. I know my father wants technology to read his mind so he can print or do other stuff without having to actually do anything. I don’t share that feeling. The end result is that no one wants to miss out on the people who find using a browser too taxing and everyone needs an app. That leads to too many apps.

    • mark

      Yeah – the sad thing is Chrome on Android supports adding websites to the homescreen, so people can get their icon if they want it. Probably not a widely advertised feature though.

      • Paul M

        indeed, just add a bookmark as an icon/widget!

  • Porsche Lauren

    WebApps and Instant app are already a thing.

    if your worried now about purposely choosing to install. ha.

  • Dekz

    Pretty brave posting this article when the Android Authority app is a perfect example of a completely pointless app that should just be a website.

  • Aditya Shukla

    Well that if you are saying it’s hard to swallow but… Yeah I just don’t have my internal partition available empty for you to put in your shitty apps!! ←to all cab booking, food ordering, etc. apps (which one leader a website which was great)

  • so even Android Authority itself admits that their app is useless?

  • mickias mekonnen

    we really don’t need an app for everything but some apps just make our lives easy.

  • Brian Wescombe

    any app that’s just a Web wrapper should be removed. this applies to Google, Apple and MS app stores. they are pointless and lazy – make proper apps or don’t make them at all

  • Matias Montenegro

    I do not have this kind of technology in my country yet, but it’s starting to raising up slowly, I don’t agree by having millions of apps for each brands that I’ll have without use for months, or even years, I would rather go on website page and pay it with the same phone, but on browser.

  • Paul M

    I try and avoid installing single apps, especially nosy ones like Facebook and Facebook messenger, unless there’s a good reason for it because the app has special interactive features or needs to be updating in the background (like Signal messaging for example). Some of these single purpose apps are horribly bloated, eating huge amounts of space for no good reason!
    Many companies have perfectly good mobile web pages. Some are deliberately crippled like Facebook’s – they removed the ability to read messages. I’d rather have a fairly useable mobile web experience than clutter up my phone with another app that has just one purpose, for example TripAdvisor. Incidentally, TripAdvisor, stop asking and asking to install your App.
    Even LinkedIn have finally produced a working mobile web experience, it used to be terrible.

  • Benjamin Haube

    Don’t even get me started on Facebook Messenger. It’s a bloated, buggy, ugly excuse for a messaging app. I can’t stand that I virtually HAVE to have facebook messenger installed on my phone to stay in touch with some people!

  • Benjamin Haube

    On this very page there is a promotion to download the AA app from the play store. lol. If the mobile website wasn’t so bad I would not have the app on my phone. Unfortunately, even on my Pixel, the mobile website is next to useless without sending every article to Pocket.

  • it is annoying…

  • Rudy™

    I noticed this trend a few years back. I run a few online discussion forums and I still see requests come across my admin desk, asking if we would ever install Tapatalk (a very highly flawed system that attempts to turn a forum into an app), or have an app available. Never.

    In Chrome, we take advantage of a feature that lets us specify that the forum software (which is responsive) can act like an app, removing the URL bar and other browser features and giving the app its own entry in the “recent apps” feature of Android. (For the techies amongst us, this is a META tag called “mobile-web-app-capable”.)

    Visitors can then add our site to the home screen. Our icon can then be placed on the home screen, and will open a dedicated Chrome browser that acts like an app, and the end users have only “installed” an icon.

    Installing apps for everything is (pardon the expression) stupid. Retailers and other sites don’t care that this clutters up users’ phones. All they care about is getting a small spot on our phone to place their “advertising” via a highly visible logo, and as the article mentions, a basic web browsing experience in a walled-off environment so we cannot stray elsewhere.

    I am opposed to it mainly for the aspect of clutter. When many average users complain about their phones becoming laggy and unreliable, one only has to look at the dozens of apps installed that are essentially worthless. Hey, I admit I load up my tablet with quite a few apps (no retailers), but my phone is kept pared down to the absolute minimum of what I use daily. If I haven’t used it in a month, it gets deleted. If I am taking a long trip, I may reinstall an app for the duration. But core features such as messaging (no social media, thank you), camera, navigation, etc. are ones that I need to operate reliably, and having to wade through clutter and deal with the payload of that clutter has no place on my phone.

    I just wish others would wise up and do the same. If these companies dump a ton of money into apps and find that very few users download them, maybe it will put an end to this vicious cycle.