If you’ve picked up an iPhone, Android phone, iPad or just about any modern smartphone, you’ve probably used what is currently called an “app”. The popularity of this term is an odd phenomenon, given that apps, more commonly known as “applications”, have been around for dozens of years. We can thank the product marketing geniuses at Apple for taking something we’ve all had on our computers for next to forever and turning it into the next big thing in technology.
To be fair, an app on a tiny phone that fits in your hand is a slightly different monster than the Outlook application that sits on your desktop computer. Ten years ago, the idea of packing so much technology into a device smaller than a deck of cards was just a pipe dream. True, devices like the Palm Pilot had apps for various functions like calendars, email and so on, but modern apps have far surpassed them in quality and functionality. You can now run games on your iPhone that are comparable in quality to modern consoles like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It’s really astonishing.
What sets today’s app world apart from applications of the past—both on desktop PCs and portable devices—is the sheer quantity and breadth of the apps themselves, not to mention the pace at which new apps are developed and released. Since the iPhone launched just a few years ago, hundreds of thousands of apps have been built for its app store, and thousands more are available on the Android platform. It’s an explosion in software like we’ve never seen before.
While none of us will ever download even a tiny fraction of all those apps, the ease of purchasing smartphone (or iPad, iPod Touch or forthcoming tablet) apps and the inexpensive, impulsive nature of the purchase have some pretty interesting implications. We are now accessing information in ways we may not have expected. Data is becoming specialized, something you click an icon to access rather than searching or browsing to find. It’s going to be a wild ride, and it may change the way we interact with web technology in ways we didn’t expect. (more…)