I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, and a recent post by Bill French of iPadCTO spurred me into action.
It's been interesting to experience the changing definition of an "app".
The most popular definition of an "app" is native software that typically runs on a smartphone, and most commonly the iPhone. It's compiled software built using ObjectiveC in X Code, an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Mac OS X. If it sounds complicated, that's because it is - developers who have the ability to build "apps" are in high demand these days.
But the line that defines an app is being massively blurred. Take for example, OpenAppMkt, run by my friend Teck Chia, which packages "web apps" into an "app store". These aren't apps in the traditional sense -- in fact they're just websites packaged up to look and feel like native apps.
But what Teck and many others are doing gets to a fundamental tenet of the allure of apps: while you browse the web, you don't own the web. Being on the web is a very nomadic experience. You visit your favorite sites, then you visit other sites, but there's very little sense of ownership on the web.
An app, by contrast, provides a unit of ownership. You purchase an app using iTunes. You own that contained experience. Or, as Bill French puts it very eloquently:
"Apps have become a meaningful abbreviation to technology that just works. Apps provide a common and easily understood idea that has been widely accepted as a solution - indeed a means to get stuff done quickly and effectively."
And that's exactly right. Especially in the mobile space, users just want to complete an action, whether it's looking up a restaurant, checking in on a social network, looking up and dialing a phone number, and the list goes own. They don't want to browse on the phone as much as they want to do on the phone.
As more companies jump on this marketing bandwagon, you can expect more and more packaging of experiences to be put into the "app" format. The term app is quickly evolving from "native software on the smartphone" to "a packaged, targeted experience that you own" regardless of whether the underlying technology is iOS, Android, HTML or desktop software.
The most mindblowing part of this evolution is how "back to the future" this whole thing is. Apps in many ways feel very 80's - when desktop software ruled, before the Internet took off and "web apps" like Google Docs and Gmail came around. Google must be throwing an absolute fit about the re-emergence of "apps," as its whole purpose in life is to evangelize the move of computing to the cloud and the web, reducing our need for desktop, laptop or mobile computing power down to the barest of terminals.
Anyone have any thoughts about how this trend is going to play out?
I love your thoughts on this but I think the emergence of apps comes from a difference place and it has everything to do with the device and not a ownership concept.
I think the emergence of apps on mobile is because:
1. input is difficult. its not as easy as writing on the desktop with a keyboard and mouse.
2. poor internet connection. 3g is horrible, thanks ATT.
3. screen size is different than the web.
4. limited computational resources (CPU and RAM)
5. people pay for games and books.
so I don't think its anything more than a very simple choice a consumer makes. do i download an app which has a WAY better experience or do i try the web which is not formatted for my device, harder to use since it's much harder to type? it's a no brainer.
on the desktop however, I have fast internet, I can type quickly a site that i want to go, just as quick as I can click on an app AND there is way more content and features than any type of desktop app that can be created. So the choice becomes a bit more difficult than just turning straight to native apps.
So I think you'll see some impact from the desktop app store because its a distribution engine for smaller app developers. You'll see more developers make desktop apps using a mix of HTML5 wrapped natively (like a popular app platform I know... appmakr.com). it's easy to do and developers want to get paid through this distribution engine.
It might be a more difficult choice for large game publishers however. EA which makes a millions of dollars by selling games on the desktop might be hesitant to distribute through apple since they take 30%. As an executive of EA could you imagine giving Apple 30% of your desktop revenue from previous years? It might be a yes because potentially you can gain 40% revenue by the distribution of the appstore. only time will tell.
So I think the idea of an appstore is good for the desktop is good and will have some impact but I think you'll see more impact where screen sizes are dramatically different than the desktop and input is also difficult. I think you'll see a big impact on the TV for similar reasons as mobile. A typical screen size is 50 inches and input is through a crappy remote control. Am I going to use the web where it's difficult to type and horrible to navigate or am I going to use an app which was designed for my tv and remote control?
great post daniel!
I'm in your camp Bill - I have a few I use a lot, but I don't use many. That might change, though, with the addition of the Mac app store.
I just came up with an interesting analogy the other day, to this whole apps vs. browser concept, which is that browsers are like when Lewis & Clark were surveying the unexplored Western part of the US. There were no roads, no infrastructure. These days, people are very happy to drive on the same roads, to & from the same places, all day long. Everyone has their own particular routes that they like to take, and the infrastructure that keeps people on the beaten path is very necessary and useful. Apps are like that - you have contained experiences over and over again that help you live your life and get the things done that you need to do. We don't spend our time -- in fact don't *have* the time -- exploring every nook & cranny like Lewis & Clark did. Makes me feel like going from the browser to apps is as big a change as the development of the infrastructure in the US was.
The app as an entry point instead of the browser is a very powerful comment, and I think I'm beginning to agree with you completely. It seems so backwards in some ways, and yet so completely fitting, especially for mobile, where users just want to "get something done" and quickly, vs. browsing.
It's funny to me how widgets haven't taken off like mobile apps have. Companies like Clearspring have been encouraging brands to "widgetize" their experiences for insertion into other's websites for years, and yet it's not the same thing. It's almost as if apps & browser are like oil and water and don't mix well. Or maybe better put, there are many instances now of websites *emulating* the packaged experience of an app, almost as if the "app" concept has already won.
Specific to desktop widgets, especially like the Mac widgets or Google Gadgets, I do use several of those with frequency, like the Callwave text messaging widget for example - it's actually a key part of being efficient on the computer for me. It'll be interesting to see how the upcoming Mac app focus turns out.
Yeah, surfing the web is such a nomadic experience, whereas with apps the user has a stronger connection to the brand, because it's all about the app. I've really keyed in on your comments about the meaningful abbreviation to technology that 'just works' + the sense of ownership coming from the packaged nature of apps (and specifically in Apple's case, the iTunes ecosystem) = the experience of navigating the interwebs via apps instead of a browser.
The best apps are thin layers for web services. IMO, they don't compete with the web, they compete with the browser. The browser stops being the default point of entry: users may opt for their app menu first. This is what I call "apps as bookmarks".
I think that if you consider the popularity of widgets, and desktop widgets in particular, the data is even more compelling for your case.
Glad I could inspire you to get on with this post. ;-) To your point...
"a packaged, targeted experience that you own"
I'm not sure I buy into the idea that "ownership" of apps is a key driver of the app market model, but I also can't find any plausible reason to suggest this is not an influential attribute at some level. I tend to think that key drivers (in the user's mind) are more likely influenced by the experience of the app and not so much the possession of (or ability to possess) said app. As such, I might say the same thing but with these words...
"a packaged, targeted experience that is focused like a laser beam to work exactly as you might expect"
When an app does this (and there are many), I personally feel like the app owns *me*. ;-)
There's long been a raging debate going over HTML vs. Native Apps. Just Googling the debate returns over 3.7 million results.
I'm here to tell you, that's the wrong way of thinking of things.
It's like debating whether oil or water will win when mixed. You can't get the right answer if you're asking the wrong question. While oil and water don't mix well, they can co-exist in the same bottle, and there are valid times you might want to use each.
Let's dive into the right way to think about mobile, and specifically about the role native apps will play. A better analogy of the mobile landscape is from the point of view of a car manufacturer like Honda. Honda makes a lot of Honda Accords -- they're its bread & butter. But for years, Honda had a Formula One team. A Honda Accord will never compete at the Formula One level, nor was it meant to. And conversely, if Honda only had a Formula One team, it wouldn't have the massive market share in the auto market that the Accord and other bread & butter models provide it, but Honda did learn a lot about how to make really great engines from its Formula One program.
In the same way, mobile apps are the "Formula One" of mobile, and HTML is the Honda Accord. You can get wide distribution across many phones by having a mobile HTML presence, but you can't do the sexy, progressive types of things that you can do with apps, because an app is typically compiled software which can leverage the specific hardware functionality of the phone (the camera, the address book, geolocation, the microphone, and many other things).
Forget what you think you know about Windows RT, the media have been on a witch hunt and in the process misled the consumer about this Operating System and the hardware which runs it.While you can read more on why i think thiselsewhere on this blog. this post is about Windows RT Apps and what works.
While it may not have all the abilities of its sibling to install apps on the Desktop, this is still a Windows machine with the ability to connect to mapped drives and mount lots of external media. While you could do all this management from the desktop explorer RT is about the apps. What this app offers above many of the others is its simple layout which makes dragging and dropping files between mapped folders easier.
It's worth noting if you do want to see a nas drive as a mapped drive for example, you'll need to do the actual drive mapping (for now) in the Desktop explore app. However once done you can create links within this app to any sub folder.