Starbucks recently announced a partnership with the New York Times to carry their digital content on the coffee chain's popular payment app, ostensibly to boost its rewards program. Facebook is already carrying news from multiple sources and plans to enable retailers to sell directly off their Facebook pages, according to Mashable.
Such synergies are not new. They happen in bricks-and-mortar stores everywhere. The question this leads to is whether we are on the cusp of mega-apps -- all-encompassing apps that will allow you to see the weather, the headlines, your heart rate, etc. along with the ability to shop at Amazon, order a Dominos pizza, summon an Uber car, watch Netflix, or use Shazam all in one place. In other words, a portal for apps based on universal partnerships.
Great concept, but it wouldn't work.
The answer lies in how mobile users (of which I am an example) tend to use apps, especially on smartphones. The essence of apps that makes them so appealing is segmentation and control. Want to buy a movie ticket? Pull up the Fandango app. Want to check on the status of a courier delivery? Pull up the FedEx app. Want to read the latest technology news? Go to TechCrunch. And so on. It's targeted, efficient, and most of all, provides freedom from unnecessary bundling.
Apps that combine many different features and services, by contrast, are inadvertently forcing you to wade through a million different options to find the one you want, or pushing content/services that you may not need. That defeats the very purpose of the app-based model.
Coming back to Starbucks, I find it annoying to be pushed music, games, downloads of the day, and now it seems, news, when all I want to do is pay for my cup of joe and go about my business. True, it's good to earn Starbucks rewards when I buy music or subscribe to the New York Times, but that doesn't make up for a cluttered app, which is then no longer simple and easy to use.
As technology becomes more sophisticated and choices for consumers multiply, it's important for companies and app developers to think about how they will simplify our lives, not complicate them. I prefer my apps segregated and organized by my interests, not what a company wants to sell me. Grasping that difference could have big implications as companies compete aggressively for business in a crowded marketplace.
Starbucks may think that by offering more products via its app, it's providing more value to its customers, but what it's actually doing is watering down the core utility of its app and creating a needless distraction. As they say: Keep it simple, stupid.
S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking.