The decline of Internet application software: Is the era of super APP over?

Author|Lu Yao

Editor|Sang Mingqiang

“108 versions have been updated in 2011, and the installation package has soared from 457KB to 257MB, a difference of 575 times.” Some time ago, when a blogger disassembled the installation package, he found that compared with the 199 files in the WeChat installation package of version 1.0 , and now the number has exceeded 12,600. The increasingly bloated WeChat has also been criticized by the outside world: in fact, about 90% of the updates are not used.

From small and beautiful IM products to national applications with daily active users of more than 1.1 billion, WeChat now includes more ecosystems, and thus aggregates more functions, including but not limited to recharge, shopping, wealth management, taxis, ticket purchases, and video swiping. ,Applets. On the contrary, it is the most core chat function, which takes up the least space, unless you store a lot of pictures and texts.

Back to last year, at the WeChat 10th Anniversary Open Class, facing the same voice of doubt, Zhang Xiaolong still said: “WeChat is still a small and beautiful product, it is almost as simple as it was ten years ago.” As an easter egg, the official attended the meeting. It was revealed that the team is developing an input method. This product was also released not long ago, but the WeChat keyboard, which can occupy 650mb of storage after installation, is 2-5 times larger than other similar products. Therefore, some netizens ridiculed that there may be a compressed “Warcraft 3” in it. “.

WeChat is not an example. Taking the iOS client installation package as an example, QQ exceeds 680M, Douyin is close to 400M, Taobao and are also close to 300M, and after installation and operation, it is often several gigabytes. The product managers of the Internet seem to have grasped the siphon effect. They are well versed in the superposition of functions, so that when Musk taught all Twitter members last year, he threatened to learn WeChat to make an all-encompassing super app.

But do users really need the optimization and increase of these functions? not necessarily.

For example, it is so big that various small games are embedded in Taobao, an Unreal 4 engine is dismantled in QQ, Baidu App has been testing the e-commerce business for several years, Alipay includes all life services, and the homepage of Meituan actually recommends reading novels; small Going to an app that listens to music, you can live broadcast, watch small videos, shop, set up live wallpapers and order takeaways. Even if you play sheep, you have to watch various advertisements in order to get props.

Although their purpose may be to attract traffic, retention rate and advertising costs, it does not prevent us from realizing that the sharp increase of these scattered functions has not brought more users and high activity, and some apps even So on the road of no return.

According to Jobs’ understanding, a good product should be at the intersection of technology and humanities, but in China, product managers did not find the boundary from this set of rules, but instead became: the smaller the product, the greater the difference, the more Big things have more in common. Compared with reopening a vertical product, based on the original application soil, injecting more segments and possibilities, making it bigger and more complete becomes a super software, which has inexplicably become the commercial consensus of all players.

In such an era when functions are no longer scarce, distinct independent products have become a rarity, and SaaS companies in Silicon Valley are the best example. In China, everyone’s solution is to be ecological, big fish eat small fish, and small fish eat shrimp. For example, large companies make refined and original small enterprises, and link them together through the development of standard open interfaces. The same is true for small programs. But this approach also raises new questions: who will lead, and why should you lead?


How many functions does a product need to add to become a garbage

Back in 2007, Jobs launched the first generation of the iPhone. At that time, he did not want to install applications on the smartphone, but regarded the mobile phone as the terminal of cloud services, and accessed the website through browser search, because the mobile phone at that time. In terms of computing, battery life, storage and other capabilities, the performance is very poor. But it backfired. The next year, he found that the speed of accessing the web page was too slow. In the same year, he released the Appstore. At this time, Apple began to build an application ecosystem.

Three years later, Wired pointed out in an article “The Web is Dead, the Internet Is Eternal”, “One of the biggest changes in the digital field in the past few years is the transition from an open Internet to a semi-closed network platform.” These platforms are Smartphones have brought a variety of apps, and as more and more people use apps, the latter provides services that allow users to stop focusing on search itself, but on acquisition.

At that time, this article argued that: App is replacing the Web, and Apple’s “iTunes+App” model has ushered in a new era for the Internet. This is indeed the case. As a node for the explosion of the mobile Internet, in addition to the birth of the iPhone 4 in 2010, the App market also ushered in a double explosion in quantity and size.

This year, the emergence of mobile social software Kik has subverted SMS, and the number of users exceeded 1 million within 15 days of its launch. The news spread to China on the other side of the ocean, and immediately aroused a butterfly effect. Therefore, when WeChat appeared, in addition to Michat, Fetion, Yixin, and Wangxin, IM players such as Speed ​​Chat and Youxin participated in the “Thousand-Faith War”.

In the first two months of WeChat’s launch, Zhang Xiaolong posted a lot of product thinking on Fanfou, including the famous phrase “how many functions does a product need to add to become a piece of garbage.” Even if there is no first-mover advantage, Tencent’s entry into the game is still not to be underestimated. When Mi Talk went online, Lei Jun also said, “If Tencent enters this field, the probability of Mi Talk’s success will be reduced.” The result is a prophecy.

The 1.0 version of WeChat has a very simple function, and it did not cause much splash at that time, until the functions such as shake and drift bottle were launched, coupled with the transfer of traffic from PC to mobile terminal, and QQ’s strategy gave way and other reasons. Simple and clear functions meet people’s needs, and users begin to drift. As of November 2013, the number of registered users of WeChat exceeded 600 million, making it the largest IM software in Asia.

At that time, smartphones had just become popular, and Internet giants represented by Tencent and Alibaba aimed at the mobile client, and each started to enclose the land and seize the entrance. Alibaba pushed mobile Taobao, Tencent expanded the WeChat payment ecosystem, and 360 strengthened the mobile terminal The investment and strategic layout of the application, the big manufacturers are busy adjusting the structure, and it is very lively for a while.

“I’m very nervous when I see WeChat.” At an IT leadership summit, Jack Ma said to Ma Huateng that before that, Ali had a commercial chain, Tencent occupied user social networks, and Baidu circled traffic. With the three divisions of BAT, the boundaries were broken , the high frequency of smartphones makes them covet each other’s territory.

According to relevant media reports, in 2013, Alibaba’s internal mobile Internet development products had reached nearly 30, in addition to Wangxin, Laiwang, Shoutao, Alipay, O2O and other local life mobile applications are also in the key development plan. In addition to investing in Sina Weibo, Ali has also invested in companies such as Momo and Kuaidi, and spent $80 million to acquire the mobile application service platform Youmeng, making up for social and mobile shortcomings.

But even so, as Zeng Ming, the person in charge at the time, said: Ali has not found a unified mobile user platform. It means that for a period of time, Alibaba’s mobile products are still differentiated functions, and the functional differences between different products allow them to attack with a single click.

At this stage, players realize that the cost of jumping between apps is much higher than hyperlinks in the Web era. Although the mobile Internet can allow products to aggregate more in-depth information, the high walls between them are also being rebuilt: Ali-based apps have completely blocked WeChat, and WeChat has also blocked Taobao’s promotion links, focusing on foreign countries. , Apple and Facebook use more closed ecosystems to make business well, and the latter has established a profit model of exchanging users’ attention for advertising, while Google, which relies on the principle of openness, is declining day by day.

All in one and Best of breed are on both ends of the scale, with both the market and players favoring the latter.

At that time, although the installation package size of most mainstream apps in China increased from kb to mb, they were all controlled within 5MB, and the mobile phone memory space was basically maintained at about 16-32G, which most people could not use up at all. This also means that most of the apps at that time had distinct personalities, the internal functions of the products were unified, and there were almost no unnecessary functions in the platform, and there was no need for mutual awakening, active background, and no unreasonable file storage mechanism.


To be the setter of the rules of the game

The inflection point came in 2017. As the three major operators lowered their data rates, the number of mobile Internet users approached 1 billion, the hardware was upgraded, the storage space was released, and functions such as social, entertainment, and office were integrated. The changing role of tools to electronic organs.

According to QuestMobile data, with the mobile Internet traffic dividend peaking as the background, as of the first half of 2018, the number of apps on the Chinese market exceeded 4.06 million. When the market is competing for traffic, it has become a tacit conspiracy for players to grab users’ time to the greatest extent, and the size of the App has also rapidly expanded.

2017-2018 Proportion of the number of apps installed by mobile netizens in China

Source: QuestMobile

A typical example is still WeChat. After players such as Fetion and NetEase Bubble exit, WeChat, which has multiple roles in communication, payment, circle of friends, and public account, does still retain the gene of leaving after use. “The release of mini-games, the official opening of WeChat’s third-party mini-programs, various functions have been inlaid, and the concept of the platform’s transformation to ecology has also emerged.

From the perspective of the underlying logic of the changes in the product itself, the product is a collection of functions, and the extension and transformation of functions cannot be separated from the use of high frequency and low frequency, and the use of rigid needs with non-rigid paths. For example, no matter how it changes, WeChat’s chat function is always in the dimension of high-frequency and just-needed products, and instant messaging occupies the first two of the four tabs.

High-frequency functions need to be easily accessible to users, shorten the use path of users, and build a functional ecosystem based on core functions. You will find that functions such as Moments and Mini Programs will have deeper entrances, but since WeChat itself is a huge traffic entrance, there is no need to worry about lack of users for these functions.

A developer once sighed in a blog: “It is now the world of BAT, and the space for independent apps to survive is constantly being squeezed. Time is running out for independent apps to occupy a market position.” After multiple rounds of verification, the most important thing is Several entrances of BAT are still stable, such as e-commerce, entertainment, local life and other app heads, which also means that the app pattern is gradually stable. Therefore, BAT manufacturers have begun to take advantage of their mainstream apps to open small programs and various entrances. retain customers.

Although they are talking about advocating openness, in terms of product use, ecology not only means convenience, but also a new round of enclosure self-promotion and commercial closed-loop. The winners in the end all want to achieve unification, because they know that once they become ubiquitous, they also become the makers of the rules of the game.

Therefore, when core apps such as WeChat, Alipay, and Meituan gain absolute control over traffic, on the one hand, they need to gain weight; on the other hand, super apps can connect to other apps of the same family and empower them. While connecting everything, the boundless expansion also creates more realization possibilities for itself.


Products with unclear strategies are pits

As the originator of smartphones, the three versions of iPhone 4 memory are: 512MB+8GB, 512MB+16GB and 512MB+32GB. The era of mobile phones with 16GB of memory in the past is gone, replaced by a huge memory volume of 8GB+256GB, or even 12GB+512GB.

According to QuestMobile data, if MAU exceeds 100 million as the “must-have” application standard, there are now 25 apps that exceed the standard line, covering communications, e-commerce, maps, short videos, information, browsers, local Every corner of life, games, etc. On this basis, as mentioned above, the app’s occupation of device memory is in the stage of continuous expansion, and the most obvious manifestation is the superposition and bloat of functions.

As early as a few years ago, some people launched the Green Application Convention to solve the problem of bloated apps. Later, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology led the establishment of a unified push alliance, which aimed to reduce the extraneous code and functions that apps added to push messages, but these The effect is not large, and the actual response is very small.

At the Baidu World Conference in 2013, Baidu launched the light application mode for the first time, using the search box to directly search for apps to achieve instant search and use. Although this mode has not been paid attention to continuously, it can be regarded as the predecessor of the Mini Program, but the Mini Program is endorsed by the platform. Especially for players, they think that entrusting the operation, payment and other processes to the applet is tantamount to giving Half-Life to Tencent.

So, how can we achieve lightweight and safe double insurance?

In fact, we have all experienced this transformation first-hand. Since 2018, there has been a wave of speed version on the mobile Internet track. Since Kuaishou launched the speed version app, today’s headlines,, Meituan, Baidu, Quanmin K Song and other apps have also launched speed version. With the fast version of the app that saves memory and is faster and better, it quickly conquered the market.

Take Meituan as an example. Last year, Meituan’s minimalist version of the app was launched, focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables and grocery shopping. The official description is “a small version of streamlined optimization, which runs fast and saves traffic.” From a functional point of view, the minimalist version of Meituan emphasizes procurement more than Meituan. At the beginning, only the two major sections of Meituan Selection and e-commerce were retained, and takeaway services were added later, which belonged to the service collection of in-store and home.

The minimalist version is regarded as a further subdivision of user needs, and it is operated by incremental transfer under the condition that the cost of customer acquisition is getting higher and higher. But this year, things have reversed. The Meituan Lite version is no longer available in the app store, and replaced by the Meituan Express version for Android. In addition, there are Weibo Express Edition and Douyin Express Edition. And Kuaishou Extreme Edition, etc., product managers began to realize that extreme speed is not minimal, and the literal meaning cannot represent the actual purpose of the product.

If we compare the size of the installation package of the various speed version apps and the original version, we will find that there is not much difference between the two. Even the fast version of Meituan retains game functions such as “free fruit”, “every day cash” and “walking to make money” at the top of the app’s homepage, and some fast version apps even add other features, such as Douyin , Kuaishou Speed ​​Edition mainly promotes the function of “watching videos to earn red envelopes”, which is actually a way to attract the sinking market.

At this time, we discovered a magical phenomenon. If in the past, the way of pushing the ground, scanning the code to send gifts and downloading the app belonged to outward marketing and inward drainage, then the functions in the app are now so rich that they are bloated and even deviate from the features of their own products. They are also readily available, whether it is to create a super-speed version or a built-in game, the results are the same: if you can’t think of a good innovative idea, you can add all the extras, and in the end, everyone is doing more and more alike, then split and combine to make a Stand-in application diversion.


Internet application ecology: mixed

The functions of an app are many and messy. Some people say that it is not just the programmers, but the product managers. But planning products is to roll yourself when you are idle and have nothing to do? Of course not.

Especially in the current era when the optimization of big factories is common, fierce market competition and severe KPI considerations, the leader said that we can’t lag behind other companies, and the big platform has traffic and is not afraid of users’ lack of demand, so the product manager conveyed the meaning to the programmer, the latter He stared blankly at the mountain in front of him, and then just kept busy with various business and functions.

A deformed market creates deformed involution, and disorderly development leads to infinite internal friction.

But in fact, the development of products in the direction of “large and comprehensive” is not what the market should look like. 300 years ago, Adam Smith said: sufficient market competition will naturally force the society to carry out professional division of labor. In the current state of high competition, product functions are becoming more and more sophisticated and vertical, and it is difficult to make a universal product in this situation.

Players who enter the market are more likely to enter the market from subdivisions, because the smaller things are, the greater the difference, and the bigger things have more commonality. For example, in the past ten years of B-side software, vertical function software has experienced a blowout in both quantity and market value. The total market value of listed software has soared from more than 70 billion US dollars to more than 650 billion.

Conflicts are also breaking out at this moment, because the narrower and more focused positioning will lower the ceiling of the vertical track. In the case of the general overestimation of the market and the presence of Internet giants, it is actually difficult for most domestic players to survive independently. , relationship chain, mobile user accumulation and the development of traffic portals, large factories are natural traffic pools, with many users and large demand, so that for startup companies, being acquired has become an ideal destination. Time accumulation, acquisition is simpler and faster.

Such a rule of big fish eating small fish is also applicable to specific product functions. Zhang Xiaolong believes that making connections means making the underlying facilities of services, and the results that can be evolved based on connections are the most abundant. The functions other than timely communication in WeChat account for more than 95%, but even if this 95% is removed, WeChat will still be WeChat, and its dominance in the social field is unlikely to be shaken, but if the 5% is lost, WeChat will No longer exists, which is actually a lot like the role of a small horse-drawn cart.

The development of Internet companies pays attention to sustainability, and Chinese apps also like to be large and comprehensive. It seems that the integration of thousands of functions can reflect the endless vitality of this company. However, those who do WeChat ecological development should know how many bugs there are in WeChat, so that the update log of WeChat is always: some functions have been updated and some problems have been fixed. As for what was fixed, they may not be aware of it themselves.

This trend has even spread to Silicon Valley from China. Anxious Facebook has started dating and recruiting; Snap has joined a small program; Uber is not content with food delivery, and started delivering medicines within an hour. Google, Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube used to be very different. Even if they crossed the border, they could not break the barriers of their opponents. Google’s email, search, AI, online disk, social networking and other applications could cover the entire screen.

The previous Silicon Valley giants, compared with a bloated application, might as well build an “application matrix” around the core business. But in fact, now Silicon Valley Internet companies are gradually abandoning the single-minded label of the past, and they are in line with the hodgepodge of Chinese Internet giants in their actions. One of the bigwigs who joined the “WeChat Theory”.

According to e-Marketer data, users’ mobile phone usage time has grown significantly in recent years, but users have not downloaded more apps because of this. comScore released a report, pointing out that user downloads and payment intentions have decreased, and low-frequency apps will be cleaned up to remove storage space. This is similar to the domestic situation. The number of mobile apps in users’ mobile phones is approaching the saturation point.

From competing for traffic to competing for time, any platform that makes a functional update will soon be misappropriated by other platforms. Video, social networking, e-commerce, travel, wallet… From a horizontal perspective, this is the last resort of Internet giants to retain users. From a vertical time perspective, it has transformed from a vertical platform at the beginning of its establishment to Heavy-duty platforms, the current super apps are actually more likely to be commercialized – you think these functions are useless, but the platform no longer cares about the specific functions themselves.

If you’ve read about the American railroad movement in the last century, the industry thrived on uniform and open metrics, but around 1920 there were 186 main rail lines in the United States, and today there are only seven railroad companies. This is also the same river that most industries and products will step into, and the inescapable law of industrialization: creation, dissemination, popularization, monopoly, and maintenance. Obviously, the giants have reached the final stage.