Confessions of an APPathetic User

I’m going to confess something that’s likely to cost me Twitter followers, kill future career prospects and launch a mild Comment war:

I’m not much of an app user.

And I can’t understand those who are, either.  Well, I can align with the casual user.  The few utilitarians out there.  Those discriminating sorts who reserve their precious device storage space for more valuable content.  Like songs, photos and LOLcats.  

But there’s a whole world out there just begging for more cute and clever applications it seems.  And forget fart apps; enter cool apps into Google and you’re rewarded with 165,000,000 results, with mostly gas-free iPhone goodies bubbling up to the surface.  That’s a LOT of interest.

The race to claim the biggest app repository is reaching mind-numbing numbers, with Apple’s trademark-protected App Store still possessing a commanding lead of over 400,000 little software blobs in its clutches (and has actually breached 500,000 including inactive apps).  And if that doesn’t boggle your brain, rapidly-expanding Android is on track to beat Apple’s bragging rights by July or August of this year.

I’m usually happy with the basic pre-installed stuff and a few extras here and there.  Load me up with maps, weather, geek utilities, some games and a full-blown web browser and I’m cool.

The last bit says it all.  Forget local apps stealing precious finite device resources– I’ll take the internet, thank you, and everything on it.  With relish.

That means high octane HTML5, naturally, and even proprietary technologies like Adobe’s Flash.  Yes, I agree with most of the complaints but just think of the number of Flash games out there.  No application store necessary.  The internet is increasingly the way to go.

Which is why I rolled my eyes every time I heard someone complain that Nokia’s Maemo “didn’t have any/many apps”.  So what.  Maemo had a killer Mozilla-based browser.  And are you really going to dig your way through 400,000+ listings in someone’s virtual store?  There’s no search engine good enough, nor time in the world.  Assuming you were so curious, the only way you would ever see what’s on the bottom is by inverting the listing.  But then, rank hacking notwithstanding, the more useful blobs bob to the top anyway.  So most shoppers will sift through the more obvious offerings and anything floating just below the cream line can only dream of daylight.

Interestingly, Microsoft’s mobile app count is growing faster than device adoption, leading to a software top-heavy situation.  That will in turn dilute their value unless and until phone sales take off.  For a saturated market of products heading toward free, that’s not good.

Web apps make sense in many ways.  They tend to be cheaper to develop, cover more platforms, and are easier to maintain.  Monetization, though, can be more of a challenge.  But if you’re reaching more people, then you’re increasing the chance of alternatives like voluntary donations… so turning a profit with mobile web sites can be simply a matter of the model.  There’s even room for subscription solutions as long as the price is below the typical user’s pain threshold.

Multi-platform app stores like AppCentral, Appia and Intel’s AppUp are a good compromise.  Even Amazon says it intends to go that way with its service.  What this could mean to single-platform servicers like Apple remains to be seen.  Would the company so eager to protect the term “App Store” (failed) go so far as to prevent others from selling software for its products?

Who cares.  Give me an open ecosystem powered by MeeGo, Mozilla and the internet and I’m good.

25 responses to “Confessions of an APPathetic User

  1. I’m not much of an app user myself – never saw the point in putting on a different calendar, mail client etc. A few games and a few essentials (maecount!) and I’m good.

    But I do think you’re presenting a US viewppoint here. ‘Use the browser’ is a great response when you have 100% coverage and an unlimited data plan. For those of us who live in places where you routinely have to ask “Do I have a phone signal here?” (let alone any sort of internet) and who have to count each megabyte having something pre-installed can be essential. Not to mention places where connection is forbidden (it still is in many of our hospitals).

    Hence I favour a mixed economy: if people want apps, or want to write apps, that’s good. If they want to use the browser, that’s good too.

    Maemo had more than enough – I had people with projects chasing me for ideas of where there might be market gaps, because there weren’t any (well, I don’t recall a fart app but that was hardly something you’d write for your tutor!)

    For me the interesting thing is people writing apps for w7: that suggests they expect it to be successful. And to me that’s still unproven.

    • Actually I wrote it from an even narrower perspective: mine. Thought that would come across pretty clearly…

      Anyway I sure don’t want to infringe on anyone’s choices, last of all the ability to make choices. Having choice is the most open ecosystem of all. ;)

  2. Pingback: Confessions of an APPathetic User | Tabula Crypticum | Maemo Meego

  3. I mostly agree with what you’re saying, I’m not much of an app downloader, but those apps I do use get a lot of use and are invaluable to me. I don’t know how I’d manage an Android or iPhone device. I’d probably spend a month finding the apps I want. I think what I’d like is app packs, suited to certain profiles of users, pre installed on device and managed by a community or ecosystem, where ratings are impossible to hack and everything is reviewed accordingly. I’m missing Conboy and a Twitter app on my new shiny N950 at the moment :(

    • And I’m not disagreeing at all. In fact that supports what I was saying. But on the other hand, I know too many people who are never satisfied with apps that do the job and spend an amazing amount of time finding newer ones. I’d rather spend that time providing feedback to a developer willing to listen.

  4. Francesco M.

    True, but still many web-apps do not provide the same user experience as a stand alone application. You can notice this looking at the Facebook application and at their website touch.facebook.com; definitely not the same thing. The same goes for other services that are available only downloading an application (like Spotify) and so on. I don’t use many apps myself, especially the ones that just replicate the same kind of service you have from the web, but still there is plenty of room for applications, unless web-apps drastically improve. without considering that often using an application is much faster than browsing a web page. Connectivity bandwidth is still a big issue.

    • I hope I didn’t give the impression that I think this is a black-and-white scenario. There will likely always be a need for installable, device-specific apps– especially the power-hungry stuff like games and office tools. But I do expect the web to erode a very big part of the current standalone market. It’s already under way.

  5. The problem, of course, with a web-based app, is that it’s not always on. It’s always on (provided you have the browser running).

    Web-based apps can’t provide notifications, which is a key factor on a phone – I don’t *want* to have my face glued to it 24-7. I want it to be able to let me know when something happens, and alert me in a way that gives me the option of interacting (or not).

    The other problem, as has been pointed out, is that we don’t *always* have connectivity. Sure, there’s technology out there that provides an offline ‘online’ experience, but it’s not been mastered on mobile yet.

    Also, we’re quickly getting to the stage where our mobiles can learn and adapt (http://www.rickycadden.com/2011/06/how-i-use-locale-to-automate-my-android/). They will do so by monitoring our usage – something a web app can’t do (cause it’s not always running).

    • Again, I’m not suggesting or claiming outright that this is black-and-white; the limitations of some web-based solutions go without saying so I didn’t belabor them. ;)

      As for “Web-based apps can’t provide notifications”– since when? Unless you’re meaning “when disconnected from their data source”.

      I get the feeling from some comments here that there’s a misconception over what constitutes a “web” app. It’s entirely possible for web apps to run offline on devices, just given of course that they will be without any functionality dependent on an internet connection (what do you mean by the technology “not being mastered”? Works for me!). But data can be cached, so in quite a few cases this will just be an intermittent inconvenience. And if anything mobile web accessibility is growing, not shrinking or standing still.

  6. Yeah, most of the built in apps are fine enough. Add several more like RSS reader (don’t use Google Reader) and good to go.

    Besides, most of the applications I use are official apps that complement the full website. Got no interest in most 3rd party apps because I don’t really need that dozens of notepad, calculator, countdown, and god-forbid, auto generated apps that’s no more than RSS reader locked to a single website.

    PS: I used another platform

  7. I also agree : some basic needs have to be filled by good applications, and that’s about it.

    Though, I’m not the typical average user…
    I otherwise use GNU and various CLI tools + scripting, and eventually a generic launcher for the UI (on a touch based device).
    That way, I have something that exactly match my needs with an advanced level of automation, adaptable on the go.

    Couldn’t get that by just digging through a monolithic apps haystack…

  8. Great!!! I’m not the only sharing the same opinion :-)

  9. The n900 has plenty of apps for everyone out there, it’s just a matter of games that people are complaining. My daily use with the n900 is all about web browsing, when i’m on the move (or just too lazy to get up) and a few more essentials that comes preinstalled. I’ve got tons of music on this device. I don’t really need games on my handset, but they are a great way to spend small periods of time, if i’m waiting for someone (something). So I can’t really see the benefits of apple’s +500 000 k app store.
    The n900 could’ve been a great handheld gaming device if it had a capasitive touch screen panel, but luckily I’m a fan of the old resistive panel and my gaming is limited to occasional angry birds and a few emulator games :P

    So I think the writer is 100 % right. And I really must say that the browser in this thing is absolutely phenomenal. And from the looks of n9 I’m really looking forward to just get my hands on that things browser ;)

    • Btw i wrote this with my n900 ;)

    • Graham Cobb

      I disagree that there are plenty of apps, or even that the problem is games. In my view, the biggest problem is commercial apps. I am a FOSS enthusiast and try to avoid using commercial software (for example, I don’t use Dropbox). However, even I use some commercial apps: for example, I fly a lot and I could not manage without my British Airways app, and the mobile phone boarding card it provides. But the BA app is not available for Maemo. In my particular case, that is a big issue for me. For someone else it might be The Times app, for someone else it might be an app their company uses internally.

      The problem is that there are a LOT of commercial apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. And if one of them is very important to a user then it will make that user unlikely to move to Maemo (or MeeGo). That is why any phone platform needs LOTS of apps: so that there is the momentum (and developer experience) to get the several thousand most important apps (most of them commercial) to port to the platform. Not because each person necessarily uses many of the apps — even one app you rely on might be a reason not to switch platforms.

  10. I completely agree with most of this post and have been a happy N900 user for 18 months now.

    My issue is that sometimes, some of the other basic included apps aren’t up to much. The media player, email client and file browser, for example. That’s when you need a big application marketplace so that the gaps can be filled with software that works just the way you like. When I had my old HTC Touch Diamond I was able to get my hands on enough Windows Mobile software to completely reinvent the sub-standard original setup.

    That’s what makes my next device certain to be Android powered, for the first time.

    • Oh, I know there’s a need for third party solutions and am glad that developers have such an opportunity. I’m just poking fun at the mass perception that “bigger automatically equals better” when it comes to app store fill.

  11. Has anyone done a breakdown of what all these 500,000 apps actually do? There certainly aren’t 500,000 different things to do with an iPhone. How many of them are simply repackaged websites (not needed if you have a good browser) or essentially identical to 1000′s of other apps in the store? I would think that after 10,000 apps all the use-cases are taken with the possible exception of new games or new social services that might spring up (which should probably be handled by a plug-in to an existing application). The law of diminishing returns must have kicked in for Apple and Android long ago.

    People love a metric though, no matter how useless.

  12. Pingback: Confessions of an APPathetic User | Bits and Bricks

  13. While using the n900, I fell in love with the ability to integrate into the OS itself. Yahoo, google talk, facebook login built into the phone. The ability to login and share to multiple places without needing to use extra apps. I loved that and I wish they had that kind of integration for other mobiles. I now enjoy my N8 but miss that kind of integration and wish it had that.

  14. Pingback: Nokia’s N9: An Unexpected Owner’s Review | Tabula Crypticum

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