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I’m Tired of Using An App For Everything
July 2, 2024

I’m Tired of Using An App For Everything

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Apps Were Supposed to Make Life Easier. What Happened?, Who goes on vacation feeling excited to fiddle with their phone more?, Smartphone apps are a headache to navigate for travel, banking, hotels, apartments, laundry, and more.

On a recent vacation, the United Airlines app staunchly refused to load my boarding pass. After waiting in a long line for a desk agent, I used Hilton’s app to check into my hotel remotely, which was convenient right up until I went to my room and found the app-based digital key Hilton had been promoting didn’t work, making me trudge down to the lobby for a keycard. Then, with the restaurant’s menu behind a QR code and the hotel’s Wi-Fi struggling, I had to eat roaming fees just to decide the duck sounded nice.

None of these were crises, but they were all annoying, a reflection of a world where every service has been crammed into an app or hidden behind a QR code regardless of how little benefit it offers consumers. Every airline, hotel chain, bank, transit system, and pizza joint has its own app. My apartment requires three—one for building and parkade access, one for my thermostat and front door, and a third for making maintenance requests and paying rent. The latter, despite my building strongly encouraging its use, refuses to recognize my bank account, and no one seems to know how to fix it.

It’s handy to view gate updates at a glance or adjust the thermostat from the couch, but analog options being downplayed or phased out is a headache-inducing development. Apps can break, or be suddenly discontinued, or just be badly designed. They can flood you with notifications you don’t need amid the ones you do. And they’re often simply tedious, forcing you to once again pull out your phone even though we’re all trying to spend less time staring at them. Who goes on vacation feeling excited to fiddle with their phone more?

Airlines and apartments have long had apps, but they’re rapidly evolving from a sometimes handy, sometimes annoying alternative to the only viable option. Physical tickets to concerts and sporting events are gone. Paper airline tickets are on the brink of extinction. Even laundromats are going app-based, lest we make it too simple to wash clothes.

For companies, the benefit of locking you in is obvious. ‘The main reason companies push consumers away from web pages and into apps is control,’ security and privacy specialist Bruce Schneier tells me by email. ‘I have lots of control over how a webpage appears. I can, for example, employ an ad blocker. Sites like the New York Times hate that. If I read the Times in their app, I can’t block ads.’

You can’t, in fact, block anything. Airlines and hotels want to constantly remind you of their loyalty program, and only their loyalty program. And if you’re studying your tickets in an app, a lot of screen real estate can be used to sell you on your next vacation or concert. But what if your phone dies? What if it’s out of date and an upgrade isn’t in your budget? What if this crap flat-out doesn’t work?

Those aren’t hypothetical concerns. There are plenty of examples of people who can no longer control their thermostat because their phone is too old to run the app or who keep getting locked out of their apartment because their key app never works and their landlord won’t offer an alternative. And here are the good people of r/laundry griping that the CSC GO Laundry app that’s mandatory in their apartments keeps breaking or stealing their money.

The death of analog options is also an accessibility nightmare. As ubiquitous as the smartphone has become, 1 in 10 Americans still doesn’t own one. Among people over 65, that number grows to 24 percent. And not everyone who does own a smartphone will have the technical acumen or physical capability to juggle all these apps and their perpetually shifting interfaces. New York’s Viscardi Center, which works with people with disabilities, notes that deteriorating vision and motor skills can make app use difficult.

‘The aging process can gradually transform once simple digital tasks into daunting obstacles, contributing to feelings of frustration, isolation, and exclusion among older adults,’ Viscardi’s CIO Michael Caprara writes. ‘For many seniors, the inability to access digital platforms means being left behind in an increasingly interconnected world.’ App CAPTCHAs (the anti-bot security feature that makes you transcribe distorted letters or identify traffic lights in an image), as just one example, can be a nightmare for anyone with vision issues.

That frustrated demographic will be left to customer service lines that are increasingly staffed by unhelpful robots. And we’re all stuck with this app-based reality, as their creators have no incentive to change. Still, I recently purged many of the travel apps that have been forced on me, and now I feel saner whenever I look at my decluttered phone. United and Hilton may one day make me use their apps again, but until then, they’ve been banished to the digital purgatory where they belong.


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