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The Verge 2017 tech report card: Apps

The Verge 2017 tech report card: Apps


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The biggest story about apps in 2017 was, well, stories. Snapchat still deserves the credit for coming up with the concept, and Instagram shamelessly ripped it off back in 2016, but this year, everyone got on board. WhatsApp added stories (and then later made them less prominent after users complained). Facebook added stories (and tried to guilt users into using them with digital ghosts of friends.) Medium — a largely text based app — added stories! YouTube added stories! It’s stories all the way down as far as the eye can see.

Of course, there’s a very good reason for all this — stories are popular, and popular places on the internet are ripe for that sweet advertising money.

Aside from stories, though, the past year saw Instagram’s fortunes rise, with record high monthly users and various new features across almost every part of the app. Meanwhile Snapchat — recovering from the fizzled out Spectacles and a shrinking base, is going back to the drawing board with a new, user-focused design.

There were the big fad apps, too: remember when Twitter was full of people using FaceApp to add creepy smiles to people? Then in the spring, there was Mastadon, which exploded as a alternative to Twitter for about a day before everyone flocked back to Twitter. Over the summer, Sarahah briefly topped the charts on Android and iOS as a place for anonymous chatting before fading back into relative obscurity. None of these apps managed to really stick around beyond a few weeks of popularity, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach that relevance again. Perhaps some kind of major influencer push could help, but those efforts are often inorganic and expensive for developers.

AIM logged off for the last time

For more proof, just look at Yik Yak, an anonymous local messaging app that was popular on college campuses a few years back but couldn’t hold onto users, and finally gave up the ghost this year. 2017 also saw the death of the legendary messaging app AIM which slowly disintegrated by losing support for third party apps back in February then with a total shutdown in December. While it’s hard to argue that AIM was an important part of the messaging landscape, it’s a clear precursor to the dominant forces of apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp in today’s technological landscape.

It’s still unclear what fate 2018 will hold for this year’s biggest viral app: HQ Trivia, which has become one of the biggest viral apps of the year in a few short weeks with the simple strategy of literally giving away free money. Copycat apps are steadily popping up, and HQ is already behind on its Android release. Meanwhile, the app continues to struggle with connection issues as more users log on for higher payout offers. But hey! Even dead apps can (maybe) come back — Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann announced that he’s working on ‘a follow-up to Vine’, so there’s always hope for the future.

Another big trend of 2017 apps was augmented reality. Gone are the days of strapping a hunk of cardboard with your phone stuck inside to your face. Instead, both Apple and Google are putting big bets down on augmented reality. For now, that’s mostly in a few apps that skew more towards “cool tech demos” rather than any killer integrations, but it’s definitely a space to watch going forward.

On the gaming side of apps, 2017 saw some big releases too, in a welcome change from last year. Nintendo continued its push onto mobile platforms in a big way with Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Mobile classics like Monument Valley, Reigns, and Words With Friends also saw welcomes sequels release, although the free to play marketplace still dominates the industry.

App stores themselves saw big change in 2017, too — Microsoft is pushing the Windows Store with a newfound focus as one-stop shop for all your PC software alongside Windows 10S (maybe it’ll work this time!). And Apple completely redesigned the iOS App Store to put a greater emphasis on individual apps and editorial recommendations to help surface good apps from the endless sea of competitors.

And lastly, Google Voice got an update for the first time in years. Maybe we don’t necessarily need a slate of new apps, but impactful updates on the ones we already love. Whatever you do, just don’t pull an OKCupid.

Final grade: B-

B- 2017 Grade

The Verge 2017 report card: Apps

Gold Stars

  • AR apps poised to be an exciting application of new technology
  • Vine might be coming back!

Needs Improvement

  • Even more consolidation of smaller apps into big companies
  • Too many Stories
  • Fad apps lacked staying power