There Is No App

The Notification *Is* The Message

A few weeks back, a Google Ventures portfolio company revealed itself to the public: WUT. A lot of the press focused on the anonymity aspect of the service, which is understandable, because that area has been hot for the past several months. But I think it overlooks the truly interesting aspect of Wut: the notification is the message.

What I mean by that is simple: WUT is the first app I recall seeing where the majority of usage occurs without opening the app itself at all. Every single message exists only as a push notification. The only reason to open the app is if you want to send a WUT (or to mute someone, or now to WUT WUT).

I find this fascinating. We live in an era increasingly inundated with messaging apps, so one key differentiating factor is speed. WUT, Taptalk, and yes, even Yo — speed, speed, speed. And what’s faster than an app you don’t even have to open to use?

And I can’t help but wonder if the timing is right for this. At WWDC, Apple announced that iOS 8 would feature significantly better notification interaction. And while Android has had some of this functionality for a while, its notifications are getting significantly enhanced interactions as well.

In other words, very soon, you may not need to open an app at all in order to interact with it. It still lives on your devices, but its interface entirely resides on the layer on top of your phone: the notification layer.

Maybe we’re not quite there yet. Maybe both iOS 8 and Android “L” still prove to be a bit too underpowered when it comes to notifications. But we’re definitely getting closer to a mobile world where apps can exist largely as smart push notification services. And the incoming group of wearable devices will only accelerate this trend.

In some ways, this reminds me of some of my favorite apps on the desktop, which I don’t actually open, but instead reside in the toolbar or system tray. They’re there when I need them, but out of the way when I don’t. These notification apps are largely different, but they’re the same in that the main interaction isn’t “opening” an app. They’re always open, waiting to push information at you rather than for you to pull it from them.

If an app seems to exist but you never have to open it…

There is no spoon.