The rise of the ‘app’, the fall of the application?

I don’t know if I was behind the times, but three years ago I had never heard the term ‘app’, and if someone had said the word to me I wouldn’t have know what it meant. Today, ‘apps’ are everywhere. It’s not just that we need to get used to what, to some, might be a slightly annoying word, we also have to get used to the facts that apps are changing computing, in the technological sense, in the economic sense and even in a cultural sense.

Of course apps are just software programs, but that doesn’t get close to describing them. Put it like this. I have looked back at my records, and in 2007 – just four years ago – I bought three major software applications: Microsoft Office (the then latest version), Adobe’s Photoshop, and Parallels Desktop for the Mac. The total bill for these programs was over €800. So far this year I have already bought five software applications for my Macintosh, and I haven’t yet spent €20. Has there been a revolution? Well, not exactly. Even in 2007 I could have ‘bought’ five applications for €20, though they would presumably have been ‘shareware’. Many of the ‘apps’ now sold online in the new Apple App Store are really also just shareware in a new shop window. But the point is something different: the culture of this whole market has changed, and amongst the apps that are really just dodgy games and minor utilities there are also major business and productivity programs now retailing there for €2.99 each.

Of course the change came via smartphones, and more recently the iPad, and now this has spread to more traditional computing. Computer programs are not seen any more as instruments for geeks, but as tools and entertainment for the masses. And it has changed the business model. Possibly the most expensive thing you’ll find at first glance in the App Store is Apple’s photo editing programme, Aperture. It is retailing there for €62.99. When it was first sold by Apple in 2005 it cost over €500. The industry leader in photo software, Adobe PhotoShop, still retails for over €800; how long will that last? Within a year or so the company will need to make it available, with all bells and whistles, for a fraction of that price.

Will this affect software quality, as developers receive much less income from sales? Or will a mass market and virtually no physical product (all is down via downloads) actually increase revenues? Whatever the answer to that may be, we can be sure that the future will be very different. And interesting.

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4 Comments on “The rise of the ‘app’, the fall of the application?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    This to me is like people talking about the paraphernalia of an addiction.
    Ever thought about trying a week with only a phone on the mobile phone. Or cannot that be done, eh. 😉

  2. anna notaro Says:

    In this 3 min. video the president of the Akamai company, leader in web application explains some the advantages of the apps economic model

    To my mind one of the most interesting economic and cultural consequences will derive from a mass marked made of no physical products, as you mention, in other words the spread of cloud computing (definition here are only witnessing the beginning of some major changes in the way we access media content and (human-machine)network connectivity, even without envisaging SF scenarios (often the SF literary genre has been a precursor to ‘real’ technological changes) the potential is tremendously exciting, provided that some key human values survive..

  3. jfryar Says:

    I think the real questions we should be asking is ‘are companies that have been sucessful now using their huge profits from other ventures to produce software at prices that undercut smaller competitors’? Is it in the public interest or good for competition if large companies not only produce the devices themselves, but the operating systems they run, develops software and apps, manages and controls the content provided and content that can be installed, limits access to third-party software, and deliberatly designs equipment to be incompatible with industry standards …

    Yes, cheap software is great and I agree that software and apps have become cool. But as we cheer the cheap prices we should keep our eye on the size and influence of the companies involved.

  4. Word of the year 2010

    Every year the American Dialect Society announces the word of the year which has been carefully deliberated and voted on by linguists.

    This year’s Word of the Year is app – a noun – an abbreviated form of application and a software program for a computer or phone operating system.

    App has actually been around for ages but since the popularity of the smart phone and the millions of pounds spent in developing and advertising phone apps – ‘There’s an app for that’ – immediately springs to mind, it is not surprising this word is the buzz word for 2010.

    Our language is constantly changing and developing. In 2009 the word of the year was ‘tweet’ which reflected the sudden rise and popularity of twitter. Incidentally the word of the decade was Google, as a verb. The most common phrase used when someone says they will look for something on the internet is: “I’ll Google it”.

    This just goes to prove how much we rely on, and are consumed by technology.

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