The Grim Future of Smartphone App Development

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					The Grim Future of Smartphone
App Development

As the world of mobile apps continues to gain importance in our lives,
the space will continue to be ruled by tech newbies who are probably
genuinely clueless. We saw this sort of trend play out in the mid-90s,
as online apps began to hit pay dirt. Before leaping into the online
space, one entrepreneur was employed as a fish monger. Others were
worse! The problem with the high-tech industry is that anyone can hit
a home run, even if they don't know how the game works.
It's important to note, right off the bat, that successful mobile apps
aren't anything like their desktop counterparts. The killer apps are
obvious: GPS-based turn-by-turn driving directions, the contact
directory combined with a phone module, and the voice-activated
mobile search engine. The rest of the apps are secondary—this list
includes the photo album, restaurant guide (Zagat, et. al.), camera,
music player/audio streamer, calculator, news/book reader, and Web
Research group Gartner says that the mobile app business will soon
hit over $6 billion in annual sales. Really? Selling what, exactly? It
seems to me that, in the first two years of the smartphone explosion,
all of the apps you'll ever possibly need are already available, and
most of them are either free or very cheap. Games might account for
some of this, sure. I can understand the desire to play various cool
games on the phone. Of course, a smartphone tends to have a battery
life of around four hours of heavy use before the thing drops dead.
Various useful databases may offer some sort of subscription to help
users stay on top of changing information. Again Zagat comes to

mind. But if this system proves too expensive, people will turn to free
sites like Yelp for their reviews. Therein lies the rub. Once free
Websites begin to optimize themselves for smartphones (perhaps
with a special URL), a lot of the apps will end up becoming buttons on
a screen that merely load up the free app from a Website. All sorts of
games ideal for small screens could easily become Web apps
optimized for such devices.
This is exactly the reason that there won't be a lot smartphone
platforms in the future. The Web guys (and the app coders) will settle
on one or two platforms to sell apps for. These two platforms will be
the iPhone and Android OSes. I just can't see it evolving any other
way. Condolences to Palm, RIM, and Symbian.
Beyond little games, the real action will be in adjunct apps—programs
like special readers for The New York Times, written to optimize your
reading experience. Bloomberg and other stock services already have
apps that keep you apprised of your portfolio and business news feeds
in real-time. I expect to see a lot of adjunct apps from everyone with a
Web presence who wants to service users who will rely more and
more on their phones to access content and services.
The concept that most Internet activity will occur on mobile devices
appeared in the media over a decade ago. As is typical with such
premature predictions, many people got agitated when the bonanza
didn't occur within a year or two. The prediction is finally coming to
pass, thanks to the smartphone. Once people own one, they can't stay
off the Internet.
Money will be made in the app scene. Somehow. Everyone loads up on
apps. As soon as I got my Nexus One, I put 30-plus apps on the thing.
But ask your friends to point out paid apps that they bought and
found useful. You'll be lucky to find one or two.

The PC software market has been studied to death. A few years ago it
was determined that very few users ever bought much more than
Microsoft Office and a game or two. If you're reading this column,
realize that you're probably the exception to this rule. Most users
aren't computer magazine readers. Most users tend to be pretty
clueless. If they're using the phone as their primary computer, it's
probably worse.
In other words, don't expect a gravy train coding apps for these
phones. Right now the novelty and the fact that experts are using the
phones helps a lot. The scarcity of great apps helps too. But I think the
market is going to get real grim, real fast. So, who wants to help me go
code the Dvorak Smartphone Utilities? Anyone?


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