When the CEO of Alphabet (formerly Google) speaks about the future of technology, the world listens. In Alphabet’s Annual Founder letter, here is what Sunder Pichai predicts, ““Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away…Over time, the computer itself — whatever its form factor — will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI (Artificial Intelligence) first world.”
Of course, there is a context for this prediction. Google has been working on AI and related technology such as machine learning for years and this advanced software already powers web services and apps such as Google Photos and Google Translate. Google’s AI system AlphaGo recently beat one of the world’s best players of the ancient and complex Chinese game of Weiqi, which is better known as Go. You may recall the parallel example of IBM Watson, which IBM describes as a ‘cognitive technology that processes information like a human being, rather than a computer.” Watson is famously remembered for defeating the (human) winners of the US Quiz Show Jeopardy in a showdown that received extensive media publicity.
You may be wondering, what has this got to do with an article on mobile apps, and coming from a founder of a mobile technology platform? Isn’t Pichai predicting that mobiles will be irrelevant in the future? Not exactly. Pichai is rather pushing Google (and others) to think beyond device and OS constraints, harnessing the power of ‘on-demand’ intelligence. All of us cannot pour millions into harnessing the power of a humanoid computer – but can we put some more intelligence into our software?
One of my strongly held personal beliefs is to welcome the future by planning for it. If the future is about Artificial Intelligence, rather than devices, then the first question we in India need to ask ourselves is – do we build intelligent apps? To be more specific, do we build apps that are not limited by device constraints in actually helping people to accomplish tasks through the day?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Today we build apps based on certain premises, for example ‘competition has an app, we also need one’, ‘because most people access internet on smartphones’ or because ‘we can give a better mobile experience than a website through a native app.’
These premises are not wrong, but they are incomplete. I would urge all potential app builders to re-imagine the need for an app, coming from the user’s perspective and not the brand perspective. How do you want to be of service to the user? How can you add value in his daily life? Do you really have a powerful ‘reason to use’ to get him or her to use up XX MB of valuable space on his device?
To back this thinking, your app also needs to run on a technology that is intelligently processing information in the background. Today not too many people are aware of the technology that powers apps. I request all decision makers to pay attention to this factor, because it can make a crucial difference – it can make your app intelligent.
Here is a short checklist of what you should definitely look at, when selecting a technology platform for your app. It’s not an exhaustive or highly technical list but it checks the major points that makes an app intelligent:
Q: Will your app run smoothly on every device and operating system?
An intelligent app does not allow the device to become a barrier to meeting user needs and offering a great user experience. Any app that is developed bounded by constraints like ‘runs only on Android Marshmallow and above’, is not using a good technology platform. This is also a real problem in adoption of apps – research cited on DazeInfo points to the fact that almost 72% of Android Users are running KitKat or even more outdated versions of Android. If your app can deliver the same experience to a user on Marshmallow and one on JellyBean, then it’s intelligently using its own inbuilt technology to meet user’s needs, transcending device limitations.
Q: Can your app talk to every user in their own mother tongue?
This may seem a daunting task given the sheer number of languages spoken by Indians (22 official languages and at least 150 spoken by a sizable base, according to the Census of India). But that’s India for you, and vernacular apps are the need of the hour, as the internet user population has already overtaken the population of English users/speakers. The technology that powers language rendition can use language data intelligently – for example, along with GPS data – to offer local-relevant options. Think of a Central Government app. It can be offered in local language flavor, depending on location and it can also communicate to other central government apps, that this user’s preferred language is Hindi. This can facilitate a better user experience for a first time user.
Q: Does your app harness the power of the cloud optimally?
Intelligence resides in the cloud – where we can store analytics, user profiles, learning from past user journeys while using the app and much more. Your app needs to use the cloud rather than valuable device space, to both store and process data. I believe there is a lot of scope to optimize how apps use the Cloud, so that they run lighter on user devices, intelligently decide what information needs to be downloaded because it has to work offline and what information can stay in the cloud. For example, a listings app needs to display phone numbers offline because a user might need them urgently when he is without data. However, the bulk of the app can be stored in the cloud so that it’s not occupying space when not needed – it can dynamically access available space on the user’s device, when it is running.India is poised to become one of the biggest mobile internet and mobile app markets in the world over the next five years. We definitely need to become more ‘app smart’ and take a closer look at the mobile technology that powers apps. In the 1990’s Intel’s ‘Intel Inside’ campaign did just that, bringing to life the tiny chip that was the ‘brain’ of the PC. Let’s do the same for mobile technology!
Anant Computing is the first mobile technology platform that is 100% locally developed, to power the next generation of mobile applications that are light, cloud-based, rich-media, vernacular friendly and device agnostic. Team Anant is inspired by the vision of a more digitally inclusive India, where everyone with a mobile phone can both create and access high quality apps ,sans language barriers.