THE BLOG

Have We Hit Communication Overload?

01/09/2015 09:48 BST | Updated 28/08/2016 10:59 BST

Last weekend I was at a party. After a rather long but fantastic night, on the Sunday morning, two young guests discovered they'd lost their phones. No problem, I said, just activate 'Find My iPhone' and check its location on the web app. Strangely they'd never even heard of it. I helped them to turn it on and we ended up finding both of the phones: one in the back of a taxi, and the other...in a field.

This incident confirms at least two of my suspicious. First, judging by the location of the phones, young people of this generation are much the same as young people of every other generation. Secondly, and more interestingly, they've started to switch off when it comes to technology. They have so much tech at their fingertips, they're starting to lose touch with what is possible - and hence what it offers them. It seems we are entering a critical period of information overload.

There is so much technological noise out there right now; so many apps; so many upgrades; so many content providers; so many packages, bundles and choices. In this new world, where we have so many technological options, it's easy to find our eyes glazing over. We have reached 'peak technology'. That's not to say that young people are less interested in tech, it's just that there's so much out there, it's difficult for them find what they want, when they want.

Look at the facts: There are 1.5 million apps in the iTunes store and another 1.6 million in Google Play. Even if you discount the doubling up, that's more apps than any one person would even consider downloading in a lifetime. In this new world, people aren't able to quickly and easily find what they want.

Just as it makes it difficult for consumers to hear what's new or really important, it also makes it hard for businesses who develop apps and communications services to get their voices heard. In fact, recent research done in July 2014 by mobile analytics company Adjust, found that 80 per cent of apps are 'dead' or 'zombies' - hardly anyone ever downloads them, presumably because life is just too short. I'm sure there are lots of good apps with the potential to become the 'next big thing' in there, but they have become 'lost' among all the noise.

App developers and tech providers need to take all this information on board - and react positively. Developers need to find new ways to cut through this hubbub, and this doesn't mean simply investing in marketing. It means designing and developing apps in such a way that they are sticky - and that they 'entangle' users, to use a turn of phrase that's very popular at the moment. We also need to make sure that when a user downloads our apps or signs up for our services, we really do capture them for the long term.

How do you do that? From my experience, one of the best ways is to create your own app ecosystem. Of course, this is not achievable for all developers. But if you're creating a series of apps and digital services, you need to make sure that they work together and supplement each other. They should amplify each other, rather than cancel each other out. If possible, they should encourage users to download or adopt your other services too. Apple, for example, has done this very successfully. It has leveraged its dedicated computer and smartphone customers, to encourage them to adopt their other services, such as iTunes, iCloud, and iBooks. Samsung hasn't done this quite so well.

Of course, the 'technology overload' has not been all-bad for business. With every threat comes an opportunity, and this scenario is no different. The explosion of apps and digital services has terminally eroded brand loyalty. Younger people are very happy to leap from platform to platform quickly and frequently. In the space of just a decade young people in the UK have moved from MySpace to Bebo, from Facebook to Twitter, and now on to Instagram to Snapchat. Internet users are now more happy than ever to try new apps and services, perhaps because of how easy it is to download something new - and get rid of it. In spite of how competitive the sector is, there is now more space than ever before for new companies to quickly grab a lion's share of the app market.

Combining these two lessons can teach emerging technology firms something very important: success can be fleeting unless you have a solid plan in place to retain your users - not only in the medium term but in the long term too. Tech companies can see their users disappear effectively overnight. If you are lucky enough to have a taste of early success, build out your apps and services so they 'entangle' users in a platform of your services.