Can we imagine a world without apps?

Indian digital payments tool Paytm innovates to create mini app store
By Anand Parthasarathy
November 27 2020: Coincidentally, on the  day that India announced the latest list of banned apps, ( see our story here)  the New York Times on its technology page  asked its readers to “Imagine a world without apps”. The author asked: “What if we played games, shopped, watched Netflix and read news on our smartphones – without using apps?”
The push to even consider this possibility arises out of the increasingly oppressive control that the duopoly of Google and Apple exerts over its two app shops, Google Play and AppStore respectively. 
If your phone runs on Google’s operating system, Android, you have no choice but to select your apps from whatever Google Play offers—indeed many of the most common apps come preloaded on your handset. iPhone owners have to depend on AppStore.  While this may not be apparent to users who find most apps are free to use, they pay a price by parting with enormous amounts of personal data every time they use an app. In fact, this is the principal concern of the Indian government with apps owned and controlled by Chinese entities. 
This story appears in Swarajyamag today:
As India bans  more Chinese apps, others envisage a world without  these monopolistic  mobile tools  
Developers pay a stiff price
As many India-based developers have found out the hard way, they too pay a stiff price. Earlier this year, after howls of protest, Google postponed to next year, but did not withdraw,  a notification that would allow them to scoop up 30% of the income earned by developers who placed their apps in Google Play. Apple has a similar regulation. Both companies also maintain tight control on how apps make their money:  The leading Indian digital payments app, Paytm found its app suspended by Google, in September, albeit briefly for  what was at best a technical violation: offering a  cashback  to UPI  payment window users, with its Cricket tie-up game.
Paytm was stung into responding by starting its own Mini App store for Android phone users, where developers would not be charged any commission on their earnings. The company would make its money by leveraging its payment bank and wallet. Paytm mini apps are custom-built mobile websites that  have an app-like appearance and offer direct access to discover, browse and pay, without actually having to download or install an app.  
In October Paytm organised a Developers  Conference inviting Indian startups to join in creating such an ecosystem of  atmanirbhar applications, that would work directly from mobile browsers and were ‘lite’ enough even for very basic handsets:  over 5000 joined the conference and some 300  service providers including big names like Domino’s Pizza,  Ola, Netmeds etc  came on board. 
Progressive Web Application
The Paytm alternative is at the vanguard of a movement to substitute what is  known as PWA or a Progressive Web Application for a mobile app hosted at GooglePlay or Appstore.  Unlike apps as we know them today, PWAs  take up no space on your phone even if you install a shortcut icon; the developer don’t need to go through Google or Apple and user information cannot be exploited by the app makers to the extent that conventional apps allow.
Interestingly, Amazon, another Net biggie, has been among the first to move away   from the  app Big Two.  It will soon launch a new games service called Luna, based in the cloud and accessible through PC or mobile browsers. And Microsoft has announced that will roll out a web version of its  Xbox  gaming console, called xCloud.  
The indigenous Mini App store from Paytm   has managed to go live through the browser route ahead of these  global   giants.
Industry watchers don’t expect the conventional phone app controlled by Google or Apple,  to roll over and die  tomorrow. But push has come to shove  --  and  in the foreseeable future our smartphones like  PCs or a laptops, will connect  to the applications of our choice be it e-commerce or social,  by  tapping into them  directly from the Internet. It is likely to be a leaner,  less data-dependent and  much  more private way  of  doing what we   choose to do with our phones.