If you have used a smartphone before, odds are that you have already interacted with a microapp in one form or another. They are just so subtly integrated into our lives that we don’t even realise that we are interacting with one. So let’s see a few examples of microapps that you might already have interacted with.
Google has been delivering microapps for ages. Let’s say I want to know what’s happening in Major League Soccer and I Google “Major League Soccer.” The first result I see is a card with the upcoming schedule and results of recent matches. It has different tabs that provide information like news, stats, etc.
This is a very efficient and succinct manifestation of information. Just the right information at right time.
WeChat is another classic example of how different services like hailing a taxi, ordering food, sending money, booking doctor appointments, paying utilities and a zillion other things can be done from single app. WeChat makes all these services available through microapps called “official accounts,” and there are millions of such official accounts that provide different services from a single app. I highly recommend reading this a16z article, which beautifully describes how WeChat has completely changed the way consumers interact with businesses in China.
There are many more such examples. But what exactly are microapps? Let’s try to decipher what are they, why we need them and how can they help us.
What are Microapps
Microapps are single purpose and cross-platform apps designed to support a single step in a user’s workflow.
In contrast to full-blown mobile apps, microapps are lightweight apps within a container app that perform one single task — and do so seamlessly, with little friction. The microapp container is a native application that can host any number of mobile web applications.
We can create one such container per mobile platform in our environment: iOS, Windows, Android and others. The container isolates applications from idiosyncrasies of the various platforms.
Microapps are self-sufficient and can be independently deployed and tested. They can be deployed dynamically without going through the App Store approval process and updating apps. Access restrictions can be applied to restrict who can access what microapps.
But Why Do We Need Microapps?
With increasing smartphone usage and the number of applications available in the App Store skyrocketing, an average mobile user has anywhere between 30–60 apps installed in his phone. According to App Annie’s research, on average a user uses 10 apps — what about all the other apps? Most of them are seldom used/updated and eventually abandoned and deleted.
App explosion has simplified the way we access different services in our day-to-day life, but it has also caused problems like:
- Inconsistent user experiences
- Time consuming App Store approval processes
- Increasing development costs due to multiple platforms
- Overhead of maintaining and updating existing apps
How Do Microapps Help Solve These Problems?
Microapps drastically reduce app complexity by breaking down a complex task into simplified atomic workflows that can easily be finished in a single step. It reduces app fatigue by providing all services in a single application. Since microapps can be pushed onto the container dynamically, it tremendously improves time to market. As most of the platform nuances will be handled by the container, developing cross-platform microapps will be much faster and easier.
Let’s take a simple example to better understand how microapps can help simplify workflows:
A typical HR application has tons of features like payroll, time off, policies, expenses etc. But most of the time I only use time off feature, and I’m not really worried about any other features. I would still have to install the entire application to just access one feature. This is not only another extra app that I have to install, but I have to keep updating it as well. On top of that, I have to go through the learning curve of yet another app to understand how to navigate the menus to find and apply for time off.
This is just one enterprise system, and typical companies today have around 20–50 such systems. Installing an app for every system is not just impractical but also a huge hassle for users who have to keep them up to date. The biggest problem of all is that each application has a different user experience, which makes it hard to navigate to the right interface to accomplish the task.
“ 80% of the time only 20% of an app’s features are used frequently”
This is generally true for any application, enterprise or not — most of the time we only use a small set of features frequently. So instead of creating individual siloed apps for each system, what if we can create highly focussed microapps for the most frequently used features and deliver them through single container application? This would deliver a unified user experience across all systems and would tremendously simplify the task at hand.
Now let’s see what would a time off microapp might look like. Instead of adding all the features we don’t need, we will extract just the time off feature as a microapp and create a minimal form through which users can apply for a time off in a single step. As shown in the GIF below, applying for time off takes less than thirty seconds.
If you take this a step further, each of these microapps can also provide actionable insights to the user that can make approvals super simple, In this microapp, when a user submits their time off, an actionable event card will be sent to their manager, and all the manager has to do is click on accept to approve it. No fiddling with usernames or passwords in a browser or digging to find the right menu in the mobile app. The entire process is seamless and simple.
Advantages of microapps:
- Lets users accomplish a task quickly
- Provides a unified user experience across all applications
- Simplifies the development process by delegating platform nuances to the container
- Makes it easy to deliver a constant stream of incremental microapps without App Store approval process
- Can be deployed on any platform (as long as there is a supported container)
- Makes it easy to create mobile experiences for existing (or legacy) applications
- Omni-channel experience
Where Can We Use Microapps?
The microapp architecture is versatile and can be used to solve a variety of problems. Let’s examine a few:
Microapps in Consumer apps:
Consumer applications are typically geared towards providing a single service to the user, so they generally do a pretty good job at providing a clear and focussed user experience. However, the sheer number of consumer apps is itself a problem. Today there are many different apps designed to hail a taxi, to pay utilities, to order food, etc. If these apps were made available as microapps to a user, and loaded on-demand through a single platform (or container app) in a simple interface, it would not only increase the user engagement with the services, but would also create an omni-channel platform through which businesses could reach and engage with their users.
A single app providing so many services might sound like an insurmountable problem, but this has already been solved by WeChat in China. Maybe we will see platforms like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp offering such services in the future.
Microapps in Enterprises:
This is where microapps can be truly game-changing. Despite big investments, many organisations have struggled to realise the promise of enterprise mobility. There are a number of reasons for this: The long release cycle for apps and the difficulty of getting users to update them. The complexity of having too many enterprise systems, and complications from legacy systems. Too many mobile apps end up installed by too few employees, and PC experiences shrunk to fit on mobile that don’t provide a great experience. High development costs and a skills gap making it difficult to develop for different platforms.
Enterprises can deliver a consolidated experience by making their business services and applications available as microapps.
Here are some examples of how microapps can be used in enterprises:
- B2E Employee portal app Microapps can be used to deploy a B2E employee portal which provides access to enterprise systems through different microapps. This will help increase mobile adoption and increase organisation productivity. A few examples of microapps that can be deployed are: — Internal communication — HR communication — HR apps like pay, time-off, leave balances, expenses — Corporate approvals — Ticket assignments — BI reports — Legacy system modernization
- B2B Business portal appEnterprises provide various channels for their customers to interact and communicate, but most of these channels are antiquated web portals that are not easy to use and are not accessible without a PC. This can be modernized by providing a B2B portal and making all business services accessible as microapps. A few examples of microapps that can be deployed are: — Ticket creation — Customer support — Billing — Account information — Product news
Do you want to know more about how you can leverage microapps to transform your organization? Come talk to us to learn more.