‘Less is more’ for mobile teens

By Anne Collier

Wired speculates that, because some Asian texting apps – such as LINE, WeChat, Gangnam Style and Kakaotalk – have “slick user interfaces that focus on simplicity and visually pleasing graphics,” these fast-growing apps will soon cross the Pacific, and at least one of them will take off in the US too. “Today, less is more.” But Wired seems to contradict itself a bit, saying they’re also adding features rather than staying spare: “Although they started as pure messaging apps, they’ve increasingly added features to become full social networks.”

I buy the “less is more” speculation, where teens are concerned, but it’s a blend of less-is-more (social-networking-LITE) and diversification. I think more and more people, led by younger people, are using a passel of simple apps for simple use cases – e.g., perishable photo-sharing (as in Snapchat, which is the very definition of social networking LITE) and photo-socializing (as in Instagram, illustrating the new meaning of “a picture’s worth a thousand words”). Apps need to stay spare and utilitarian because that makes them more versatile and adaptable. There are other uses for Instagram, for example, such as marketing or displaying a collective of favorite things or creations (and those are well-established uses now). Teens, whether as individuals or groups, like to make apps and services their own. Simplicity and utility help them do that. It’ll be fun to see, not what the next hot app will be, but what the next teen-developed use case will be. It won’t necessarily be the use case envisioned by an app’s developers or a service’s founders, and it’s getting harder for adult analysts to predict! [BTW, Kik Messenger is No. 1 with teen in Australia, I learned when in Sydney last month, and WhatsApp seems to be No. 1 in the world, at least according to the Android app store download numbers at Google play.]

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