Mobile Apps Are the Rage, But Whatever Happened to the Desktop?

Consumers Are Downloading Mobile Apps by the Bushel, But Apps For the PC Are a Big Opportunity

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Freddie Laker
Freddie Laker

I love apps on my mobile devices. Some might argue I have an app addiction with literally 15 to 20 apps being bought a month between my iPhone, HTC Desire, and my iPad. Since apps are reviewed by the app stores, I don't worry about my devices crashing, and if I don't like them they're easy to uninstall so I'm always game to try out apps by businesses and brands alike. In fact, it's pretty normal fair these days for brands to be creating apps and games and distributing these (typically free) brand experiences through the app stores. In fact, I find they tend to make their way into almost every digital pitch these days.

Why then did desktop applications as brand experiences never take off?

Adobe Air made it easy for Flex and Actionscript developers to create multi-platform desktop apps and yet the world of desktop apps as marketing experiences never went mainstream. There are so many clear benefits including being an ongoing engagement with consumers on one of their most personal devices that they might spend hours and hours a day on.

The reality is that I think there is a natural hesitation to install anything on your desktop for casual computer users as you never really know if your computer (which for many of us is holy ground) would survive the experience due to malware, viruses, poor coding, etc. For most the risk just wasn't worth it –- which is exactly why I've always recommended to creative teams that they avoid installable desktop apps at all cost because the drop off rate would be too high and stick to in-browser experiences whenever possible.

We're in a new age, though, an age chock-full of apps that do pretty much everything, an age when consumers trust the concept of apps and an app store. Apple's recent announcement that they will start selling desktop applications through an app store is a major opportunity for marketers. It has an excellent chance to bring in the age of the desktop as a favorite place to provide app-based brand experiences and the feared drop-off rate might finally plummet.

There is no doubt that apps on mobile devices are here to stay and I think this is the beginning of a major trend in desktop experiences. Mobile devices have been able to install applications for quite some time before the current generation app stores existed -- it was just difficult and cumbersome for your typical user. Expect the same revolution to happen on the desktop and start preparing for a whole new wave of specialists to help agencies and brands alike.

For marketing experiences to be successful on the app store I think we should look to guidance from the successes of apps on mobile devices. Expectations should move away from large blown-out applications and games that some might expect on a desktop machine and think about lightweight, focused, and sometimes "disposable" experiences. Consumers have reset their expectations around low-risk, short-term experiences that serve one function very well.

Application developers and marketers alike should be looking at the functionality of desktops and thinking what can I do here that I can't do in a browser or via streamed content. I expect a lot of more advanced uses of cameras, processing power, your local computer content, and "always on" experiences to be fertile territory for brands to create memorable moments for consumers. These are areas where browser-based experiences still struggle and the desktop offers a chance for new creative approaches.

It's time to challenge ourselves to ask "how can brands bring value to the (mac) desktop?" as it's just about to become another great battleground for the hearts and minds of consumers.

Freddie Laker is a digital strategy director at SapientNitro, who's currently working and living in Shanghai.
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