Every app is a communications app

Anyone creating an app aspires to delight their users (period), because delightful apps win.

Whether an app is centered around compelling content in sports, entertainment or news — or the focus is finding and buying a concert ticket or a t-shirt, booking a flight or hotel, or hailing a town car or taxi — enabling users to engage with one another in-app and in context is the key to a delightful user experience.

Contrary to how John’s tweet above may be interpreted, this is not about jamming chat into an app. It’s fundamentally about how the user experience is enriched by the context that comes from a shared conversation within the app. If users are not able to engage with one another in a high fidelity way within the app, they will find ways to continue the conversation through other channels, elsewhere. This robs the app of valuable engagement and follow-on growth.

Here are just a few examples of how apps we use every day can be transformed into a more engaging experience through context-rich, native communications:

An app for finding babysitters.

Without native communications:

This app is essentially a marketplace for babysitters and parents in need of a babysitter. The app pre-qualifies babysitters through background checks and then presents parents with a list of available babysitters, based on the date, time and experience criteria the parent sets.

Transformation opportunities:

  • Messaging to connect parents to each other to collaborate and discuss the selection and ultimate hiring of a babysitter.
  • During-job photo or video messaging from babysitter/kids to parents to keep parents updated on the kids’ well being.
  • Sharing of checklists and other content types so parents and babysitter can stay in sync during the job.

(What a babysitting app might look like with native communications.)

After adding native communications:

The app now better sets parents’ minds at ease, and facilitates communication during the most critical parts of the process that the app enables - 1. choosing a relative stranger to entrust with your kids and 2. the actual babysitting event.

An app for searching for real estate.

Without native communications:

This app indexes real estate listings and enables potential buyers to sort homes by an array of criteria - location, square footage, number of bedrooms, year built and number of days on the market, to name a few.

Transformation opportunities:

  • Messaging to allow prospective home buyers to discuss properties as they review online.
  • Photo messaging to allow home buyers to to document and contextually share images of homes they tour, even if one of the buyers can't be present.
  • The ability to share property listings as content objects.
  • Calendaring to schedule time to tour properties.

(What a real estate app might look like with native communications.)

After adding native communications:

The app now facilitates a collaborative process — centered around an emotionally-charged, exciting life event — and allows home buyers to communicate in the context of the buying process.

An app for booking restaurant reservations.

Without native communications:

This app helps diners find and book reservations at restaurants. Diners can set search parameters like location of restaurant, type of cuisine and time of day.

Transformation opportunities:

  • Messaging to connect reservation booker to other members of the dining party.
  • Messaging to connect diners to the restaurant.
  • The ability to share menu items as content objects.
  • Location or instructions on how to get to the restaurant as content objects.
  • Payment confirmation via messaging.

(What a restaurant reservation-booking app might look like with native communications.)

After adding native communications:

The app now allows people coming together to break bread to communicate in context in advance of the dining experience as they choose a restaurant.

An app for planning travel.

Without native communications:

This app helps people organize and access travel reservations and details in one place.

Transformation opportunities:

  • Messaging to connect multiple people traveling together.
  • Reservations and other bookings as content types.
  • Notifications from airlines, hotels and car rental companies, providing updates on reservations, arrivals, availability, etc.

(What a travel planning app might look like with native communications.)

After adding native communications:

Since travel is often a group activity, this app now better serves travelers needs. It brings everyone together on the same journey, and allows them to communicate and share in the context of the trip — the flight, the hotel reservation, any activities booked, etc.

Adding communications to virtually any app improves its utility for its users.

Apps like the ones above are focused on either providing users with content or enabling them to take an action. Real estate listings are content. Securing a restaurant reservation and booking a babysitter for a night out are actions.

At Layer, we believe that the content or action the app is providing or enabling is only half of the apps’ potential. The other half is allowing people to communicate in the context of the content or action taken in the app. If an app creator has not yet given her users a way to interact with each other inside of the app, she’s missing the other half of her app. It’s not just about the content of the app, it’s about the dynamic between the people who use it.

Users of an app, by definition, form a community around a shared interest. (After all, they all downloaded the app for a reason.) Communities want to communicate, and communication binds a community together.

We’ve done a huge amount of heavy lifting so the app creator can imagine and have the experience that works for them and brings their users together, without burning valuable time and resources on infrastructure.

In addition to solving the hard technical challenges like cross-device consistency and synchronization and providing of offline support — which are built into Layer’s infrastructure — Layer offers an array of features to app creators that empower you to create the exact communications experience you desire.

  • Typing indicator helps create the sense of presence and intimacy of a real-time conversation.

  • Read receipts and delivery status notifications act as cues for your users, giving them a sense of the conversation’s progress.

  • Support for asynchronous video chat, or video walkie-talkie chat, lets your users hear and see nuance in the voice and physical presence of the other person in the chat.

  • Support for text chat lets your users dialogue efficiently.

  • Support for audio recordings lets your users hear intonation in voice, play music, or hear any sound relative to your product experience.

  • Support for content of any payload lets you dream up virtually any way to share data within your product. A tic tac toe game, restaurant reservation confirmations, airplane flight updates — it’s up to you.

  • Our UI toolkit lets you use thoughtfully designed and well-tested UI components that set the tone you desire in your app’s messaging experience.

We see these features and functions as building blocks for app creators. We built and delivered them so app creators may be freed to add technically robust and well-designed communications to their products.

At Layer, we believe the future of communications is contextual, added natively into apps of all sorts.

We can’t wait to see what you build.