Beyond Apple, the Apps Culture is quickly spreading globally to app stores for the Android, BlackBerry and Symbian-based operating systems, creating a parallel universe of iTunes-like walled gardens that could grow to be just as expansive as, but much more secure than, the Web.
“Apps provide a faster connection to the information that people most want and need,” said Chuck Palmer, principal strategist at ConsumerX Retail (Grandview Heights, Ohio). “For the app provider, they cut through the clutter of competition and allow you access to your most engaged consumers. For users, apps offers speed to information without having to mess with browsers, search engines and URLs. If something is happening in the news, people go right to their New York Times or Wall Street Journal app. Plus they can be arranged ‘my way’ on the phone’s home screens.”
In the short term, commercial Web pages will run in parallel with access to the same information from apps; but since “the rest of the world does not have the developed infrastructure of land lines like the U.S. or the U.K., it will almost become a thing of the past to develop a Web site and then an app for it,” said Jacob Young, president of Young Social Media (Los Angeles, Calif.). “The future will be the other way around. New products and services will be built first for mobile apps, and then Web access will be added to maintain an alternative access method that backs up the service.”
The Web is just an app
While the public tends to use “the Internet” and “the Web” interchangeably as synonyms for the same network, the latter, of course, is an application that runs on the former. Granted, the World Wide Web has been the Internet’s killer app, allowing the network to morph from a Darpa-created tool for collaborative research to a global phenomenon expected to reach 2 billion users next year. But apps are growing even faster, up from virtually nothing just over two years ago to more than 7 billion downloads and counting.
“Even when the Internet was first starting out, computer users preferred apps over browser tools,” said Adam E. Ornstein, founder of VideoTagger software provider Electric Happiness and platform services manager at WebMD. “The reason is speed; an app is much faster.”
The most popular types of apps are ranked by Nielsen as the percentage of recent downloaders who had used each category of app in the past month.
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One drag on the runaway Apps Culture is that the four dominant app platforms—iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Symbian—have little motivation to pursue interoperability. Developers thus must tailor their apps independently for each platform, then commit to keeping up with operating system upgrades for all, rewriting their apps as needed to maintain compatibility. “This can wear developers down and at the same time frustrate their user base,” said Ornstein.
HTML5 is being touted by both Apple and Google as the eventual solution to interoperability. That revision, with native support for audio and video, will render obsolete the labyrinth of plug-ins required today. But it won’t be released as a candidate recommendation until 2012, and full implementation could take a decade—too long a wait for today’s “app-a-holics,” as Jacob Young, president of Young Social Media (Los Angeles), calls the members of the Apps Culture.
“The current model of releasing an app for the iPhone and for Android and for BlackBerry and for Nokia [Symbian] is not cost-effective,” Young said. “What will be effective is creating one app that is universal.”