The App Bandwagon

Would we have an official OxiClean® App had Billy Mays survived to witness the rise of the mobile Web?

Applications are trendy right now. Like a digital bandwagon rolling into town, ‘apps’ are touted as the latest must-have for our smart phones and mobile devices. Similar to the proliferation of browser add-ons in recent years, designed to improve our Web surfing experience, apps are seen as essential tools enhancing our increasingly mobile connected lifestyles.

I am a huge proponent of well-designed applications—especially those able to improve our experiences with technology, empowering us to better utilize information. However, recently I’ve become slightly weary of the flood of applications upon our collective consciousness.

As of November 2009 there were over 100,000 applications available for the iPhone through Apple’s App Store; by March 2010 30,000 applications were available for the Android platform -these numbers continue to grow each month as more and more people enter the mobile market. I imagine we’ll soon have an app for everything including, ironically, an app to help us sift through the sheer cornucopia of apps available to determine what’s worth installing and what we could perhaps do without.

Don’t get me wrong, I think apps can be extremely useful in our daily lives—but do we really need a Huffington Post application coded specifically for the iPad platform?
Last time I checked, you could access all the great content available on huffingtonpost.com through Safari—on the iPad of course.
There’s also an app for Wired Magazine which has received a great deal of press lately. But I wonder if Wired just wanted to hop on the tech bandwagon just to say “Hey, we’ve got a Wired app”.
Naturally, technology is Wired Magazine’s bread and butter, so it might be strange if they didn’t offer an app-ified version of their traditional Web site. Then again, does the Wired app really offer anything unique above and beyond their existing Web site? I honestly don’t know because I personally haven’t tried using the Wired app, so I’m not really in a position to critique the user experience. Others however, have weighed-in likening the experience to (ehem) a 1990′s CD-Rom, among other things.

While the popularity of app-ifying Web sites continues to rise on closed platforms like the iPad, ironically of late, we see established plug-ins like Flash demonized by Web standards groups and open source proponents who would very much like to see a Web—and a mobile Web for that matter—completely devoid of proprietary technologies, like they somehow inhibit the Web from moving forward.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I really don’t see a difference between a site designed to run as an iPhone app and a site designed to run with the Flash Player plug-in. The Huffington Post and Wired apps aren’t really apps in this sense—just Web sites re-purposed for smaller mobile screens with multi-touch interactivity in some cases.

I suppose I am more of an idealist, because I envision a Web free (or at least with a minimal number) of competing platforms designers and developers need to contend with when coding and building our clients digital assets.
If I own an iPhone or similar mobile device, does someone out there envision a world where I would need to install a separate app for each and every site I visit online?—oh but wait!—I, like many other people, visit 100′s of sites each month—that’s a lot of apps to install. Seems a bit over-engineered of a way to experience digital content wouldn’t you say?

5 thoughts on “The App Bandwagon

  1. Thanks for the comment Goldie.
    You’re probably right in saying it will take approximately 4 to 5 years for the quality of mobile applications to improve across the board. The way I see it, each year the design/development bar will be raised as the market for mobile applications matures and people increasingly seek out high quality, personalized experiences.

  2. I quite agree with that. Most of the apps just don’t make any sense. As you said, it’s just a new design based on mobile screen while they could take advantage of mobile phones possibilities.
    But this is quite a new and small market, only 25% of people use smartphones and big companies, let’s say twitter for instance, made their entrance in the market only this year (for android at least).
    So it has all the goods and bads of emerging markets.
    -not so many real experienced professionals
    -high rates
    -disinterest from companies and users
    -lack of experience

    Good thing are
    -talented persons are rare and easily spotted,
    -products taking risks are rewarded right away
    -products that took a real team to work on are succesfull

    just to name a few. So give it 4/5 years and apps quality will automatically improve.

  3. First off, I really appreciate the comments. Thank you.

    Jeff, I think you’ve touched on a few excellent points. I agree, we’re definitely at an interesting stage where many companies, brands, media outlets, etc, are all trying to determine how apps fit into the existing digital ecosystem. It’s evolving, as are the methods with which we access information —increasingly through mobile devices.

    In terms of applications offering a more secluded or tailored user experience, I agree and think there are wonderful opportunities for designers and developers to leverage some of the unique attributes of mobile devices to create truly innovative experiences. Apps designed, for example, to make use of accelerometer sensors and GPS open the door for compelling interactions.

    DP, a separate app for every site probably won’t happen (I hope not) —and it does sound a little ridiculous if we ever ended up there. The Huffington Post app, I believe, is free while the Wired app is $4.99. I think it will be interesting to see the revenue possibilities of more advanced apps versus more generic free apps in the next few years. At the same time, I believe there’s a coming Darwinism of apps simply due to the vast number of apps currently available.

  4. A separate app for every visited site would be quite ridiculous. But everyone is trying to make money, for their company, off their unique apps. From a money hungry perspective separate apps equal separate lump sum of money.

  5. Good point, but what about the idea that more and more consumers want a cleaner, more secluded user experience (http://nyti.ms/alzrBq)? While there are piles of useless or redundant apps, I’d argue that magazine’s like Wired and other pubs look at the app that way. And while you’ll probably never HAVE to install an app to visit a site, for some it may be a second-class experience. I think we’re in a stage where everyone is trying to figure out which path is best — open web, apps, both — for their business and/or content. That said, if we think there’s a bandwagon now, imagine when there’s an iPad or other tablet selling for $100? If things continue down the road we’re on, we haven’t seen anything yet..

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