Foursquare recently joined Google, Facebook, Dropbox and others in "the great unbundling" of apps with the release of Swarm last week. Matthew Panzarino had an excellent post on TechCrunch describing what he's calling these new "invisible" apps:

[W]e’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicitly have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing’, they’re purpose built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use and predictive computation. These ‘invisible apps’ are less about the way they look or how many features they cram in and more about maximizing their usefulness to you without monopolizing your attention.

- Matthew Panzarino

Well-known investor Fred Wilson describes this trend of having collections of apps as "App Constellations":

Putting a ton of functionality into a single app is not the right way to do it on mobile. Having a constellation of mobile apps that all work tightly with each other seems to be the better way. And the leading mobile app companies are all headed in that direction now. Pay attention to this trend.

- Fred Wilson

There are only a handful of companies like Facebook, Foursquare, Google, and Dropbox. That is, most companies do not have to deal with unbundling their apps because that's a great problem to have. Instead, the key challenge for anyone launching a non-game app today is to identify the right balance of features to achieve this so-called "invisibility."

Be ruthless in focus, reduce and simplify. Hopefully it will provide you the best opportunity to start building your own app constellation.

May 22, 2014
Written By:

Ken Yarmosh

Ken Yarmosh is the Founder & CEO of Savvy Apps. He's the creator of more than 20 featured apps, including an Editor's Choice selection and Starbucks Pick of the Week. An O'Reilly author, Ken regularly speaks about application design & development, as well as the future of technology at outlets ranging from Bloomberg TV to Google.