The mobile applications market represents a great outpouring of creativity thanks to the inventiveness of developers and the inspiration that the Apple iPhone and Android smartphones engendered. But I wonder if we’ll still be buying mobile applications 10 years from now. Will web services, cloud computing and faster wireless connections render mobile apps obsolete?
Compare your smart phone use to your PC experience. How many PC applications do you buy today? How many did you buy when you first got a PC? When we got our first PC, we invested in lots of applications from games and utilities, to tax preparation and personal productivity software. Today, most of what we need is available as a web service. The biggest buyers of PC software today are corporations but even these organizations are increasingly moving to web services. They’re cheaper and don’t require the endless maintenance that PC and server-based applications demand.
Market research indicates that games, weather and navigation software are the most popular mobile applications. And most smart phone users prefer mobile apps to browser-based services. But not all mobile apps are created equally. There’s lots of buggy software out there. The Android Market and iPhone App Store display the maturity of apps along with user reviews.
Researchers also indicate that the average smart phone customer uses only about 10 apps on a regular basis. I download apps every week and if they don’t grab me immediately, I tend to uninstall them. Buggy apps that deliver an error message upon start-up are also tossed.
I’d argue that few apps really take advantage of the mobile nature of the smart phone. One early iPhone app that really lived up to the promise of convenience that comes with the smart phone is the Zip Car app. Zip Car is a short-term car rental service that’s popular in urban areas like New York, Boston and San Francisco among others. The app, which is now also available for Android devices, lets you make a reservation from your phone, find a car in your area, beep the horn to locate it and unlock the door. Fantastic!
I’d hazard a guess that mobile apps are largely responsible for the rapid shift from feature phones to smart phones. The latest research indicates that 40% of mobile phone customers in the U.S. use smart phones and that’s likely to accelerate as smart phone competition heats up, prices come down, and the viral effect of having the latest style icons takes hold.
But I’ve no doubt that some disruptive innovation is percolating in some entrepreneurs imagination that will entice us to change the way we do things and abandon those things we’ve become too accustomed to. Perhaps mobile apps will become a casualty of the next technology disruption.