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How Facebook is Framing the Future of App Development

Posted by Steve Howe on May 3, 2017 12:00:00 AM
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Around two weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg sauntered onto the stage at Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference to deliver his keynote speech. Aside from delivering the usual bouts of trademark creepy laughter, he also delivered significant news for developers that will change the way we think about applications.

The evolution of Jobs To Be Done

Anyone in marketing will have heard of “Jobs To Be Done” theory. In short, JTBD proposes that as marketers of a product or service, we should focus on why people do what they do, as opposed to how they do it.  

Here’s how the theory evolved.

Harvard marketing professor, Theodore Levitt, once said: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” This perceptive observation re-framed the key questions for product and service creators. It allowed for innovation:

“What else can we invent that will make holes?”

“Do people even need to own a drill?”

“Can we provide a service that will result in holes, without the customer having to buy a drill?”

This, however, didn’t drill deep enough into what compels people to buy things.

 

Alan Klement, in his book When Coffee & Kale Compete, explains:

“If you sold drills, you might be tempted to think that people buy drills and bits because they want holes. But then 3M comes along and develops an entire line of damage-free hanging products that are designed specifically to eliminate the need for a drill or making any holes [...] while you were convinced customers wanted holes, your competitors understood that customers wanted help improving their lives.”

CordlessDrill.jpg

Drills and their holes: Still boring

 

A JTBD, therefore, describes motivation, not functionality:

Drill = product

Hole = result

Increased pride over home environment  = JTBD

Mark Zuckerberg, it seems, has been boning up on JTBD theory. Facebook are building a world where people’s motivations are fulfilled not through the purchase of physical products, but through interactions in virtual and augmented reality:

“We don't need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app TV and put it on the wall and watch it [...] It's actually pretty amazing when you think about how much of the physical stuff we have doesn't need to be physical. It could just be digital and created by kids all around the world who don't need access to a factory to build a TV."

Why bother listening to what Zuck has to say? Because Facebook will shape and define the digital future—whether we like it or *frown emoticon* it.


Augmented Reality

Keep a headset-covered eye on AR. Facebook have gone all in on the VR and AR bet—not just through the purchase of Oculus Rift in 2014—but also because they’re placing a heavy emphasis on the smartphone camera and the expectation that their user base will snap up related new features.

We’ll soon be swimming in metadata that’s invisible to the eye—invisible, that is, until you log into Facebook, lift up your camera, and observe it via your screen.

This is being powered by Facebook’s own machine learning technology, which has been developing over the last few years at a relentless pace. Take, for example, the following graphic presented at F8:

fb_ar_image_recogntion.jpg

Note the years in brackets at the top of each image. In the space of five years, the AI neural network has gone from being able to identify a person in an image, to being identify animals, everyday objects, and—most significantly—the depth dimensions of all of them.

Facebook have coupled this with an advanced form of geolocation technology they call “SLAM” (simultaneous localization and mapping) which will open the AR world up to much more than Pokémon.

Zuckerberg, giggling all the while, demonstrated some Facebook-approved use cases:

  • Leave virtual notes on your fridge, warning your partner the milk’s gone sour (P.S. I love you).
  • Tag local businesses with floating reviews and recommendations (avoid the squid).
  • Use the table in your doctor’s surgery as a tower defense game board (no more flipping through nutrition magazines from 2007).
  • Contemplate a piece of AR street art (Zuckerberg said that people standing around looking at blank walls “is going to be a thing in the future”.)

In the short term, Facebook are inviting developers to tap in into their data (e.g. a user’s location, the objects they’re filming) and harness the depth-perceptive technology to create masks, filters, and effects that respond to real-time data.

If, for example, someone was filming themselves following the Manchester United game, they could pull in live match updates from another app and celebrate goals with noise from the fans, fireworks, and animated “goooooaaaalll” text graphics.

You can participate in the beta AR studio project here.

The tools don’t require any code, and to be honest they’re nothing new. What is new, however, is the Facebook power-play for centralizing development on their platform. In essence, they’re opening up this well-funded and beefed-up technology playground in order to become the default hub for absolutely everything. It’s an attractive prospect for brands, who will be able to take advantage of the platform’s massive user base via advertising and partnership opportunities.

If this were a tower defense game, Facebook just stormed the castle.

Screenshot 2017-05-01 at 9.43.25 PM.png

Augmented Reality: Get ready to slap some tables

Don’t shoot the Messenger

Approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide are using Facebook Messenger. That’s an awful lot of potential. Which is why Facebook, little by little, is ensuring that it’s a social space you won’t ever need to abandon to get stuff done.

Before the conference, David Marcus, vice president of messaging, said this:

“Everybody wanted websites when the web was launched. And then everybody wanted apps [...] this is the start of a new era.”

Translation? Facebook will become the bright burning star in the center of the app solar system, with everything else revolving around—and depending on—it.

New integrations will pull music, games, and yet more bots into the mix. The potential is huge for developers, who, again, are being encouraged to use the Messenger Platform to build, build, build.

At F8, Facebook used chat extensions to demonstrate a situation in which a group of friends ordering a pizza each made their request, with a bot responding in turn and adding it to the order. Now even the bots will be in on the squabbles over toppings.  

From a marketing perspective, it’s an opportunity to extend brands into a platform that is quickly becoming the default messenger app for millions of people. As Facebook state themselves: “The people you want to reach are already here.”

16748468719_bbcc48d14a_b-1.jpg

Mark Zuckerberg presenting Messenger Platform back in 2015. Since then, it’s gained millions of users.

Job done?

The very purpose of apps—meeting the need of people’s Jobs To Be Done—is not disappearing. People want a fulfilling social life; they’d like on-demand taxis. People want to be inspired; they’d like a decent podcast. People want to love and be loved; they’d like to find potential dates. What is changing is the playing field on which these desires are met. And with that comes the potential for the rules of the game to be changed by (you guessed it) Facebook.

It’s not hard to envisage, within the next 5 years, a tipping point at which the main conversion metric for app developers will cease to be the number of downloads and start to be Messenger integration sign-ups.

Unless, of course, you think you can build a messenger app to rival Mr. Zuckerberg’s. In which case your Job To Be Done is one of most ambitious there is.  

Steve Howe is a freelance writer, translator, and teacher living in Barcelona.

Read more about him here.

Topics: App promotion

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