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Why I'm Beginning To Cringe At "Download The App"


For many people mobile phones are becoming the primary device used to stay connected throughout the day.  Sure they still have their desktop or laptop devices at the work and/or home office, but the smart phones of today provide access to corporate and personal e-mail accounts, webpages and the ever ubiquitous "app".  While there have been questions about ownership and the right to use the term "app", in the end "app" is short for application.  Primarily meaning applications that run on mobile devices- smartphones and tablets.

Many people have 2 mobile devices- professional and personal.  At Cisco we have a strong culture of Bring Your Own Device or BYOD.  I opt to have a single mobile phone for professional and personal use.  I've installed many business apps on my phone: WebEx Meetings, e-mail, Twitter, calendar, Jabber, TED, and the Cisco Mobile App to name a few.  I've also installed some time suck apps like Sudoku Daily and Shortyz Crosswords.  There are other time suck apps such as Angry Birds that I fear putting on my phone lest it stop being a phone and become a game console.

I then started installing applications for personal use.  I looked at my financial institutions and each and every one had a unique app.  I know this because I still receive paper statements that have a line "Download our mobile app." and I receive regular e-mails telling me I can download the app.   Each magazine subscription I have also has an app to be downloaded- every cover tells me so.  Finally, all the social sites I belong to have their own app.  Even my local community has a mobile app called iCoastside.  Include all the preloaded apps that I don't care to use and I end up with icons after icons after icons along with widgets after widgets after widgets.  In the end, I decided not to install many of the apps available to me that are designed to make my mobile experience better.  It just seemed like too much.

I have the Samsung Galaxy S III and when I learn there are over 700,000 applications available for Android devices from Google Play with about the same available from Apple, then combine that with apps available for Windows and Blackberry mobile devices I can safely surmise there are over 1.5 million mobile apps out there.  I realize these aren't unique applications, but it is a staggering number.  It makes me wonder if all these apps are necessary and why.  Looking at the amount of Android fragmentation one may wonder why develop native apps at all.  Maybe I'm just old school when it comes to installing random apps on my device, but I don't want to provide access to my system to just any application.  I don't like that many of the applications ask for access to services that seem irrelevant to the application.  The more applications I install the more likely I am to have something with bad code on my device.  I've also noticed that many of these apps continue running as services in the background after being closed using resources and affecting device performance.

As the mobile phones continue to become the dominate device for collaboration moving beyond simple voice to dual-mode voice, instant messaging, e-mail, Intranet access, World Wide Web browsing and video, I continue to wonder if I really need a separate app for each collaboration need.  I believe that anything for consumption should be delivered via a browser and with the HTML 5 specification complete from W3C more capabilities will be available to improve the user experience.  I also like to believe that a native browser will manage concerns with various footprint sizes of mobile devices.  There is a place for mobile apps aside from games.  I like aggregate readers such as Google Currents, Pulse, and Flipboard.  There may also be a market for using such readers as channels for corporate magazines or even internal collateral.  When you consider the evolution of the mobile app ecosystem it demonstrates a market opportunity.  I hope the explosion of mobile apps doesn't mirror the "dot-com" explosion of yester-year, but with a quarter of mobile apps used only once I can't help but wonder if mobile app development is the best focus of resources.  The future of collaboration means collaboration should just happen regardless of device.  Of course, standards must be adhered to, but having support for future devices and OS as they come to market is key.  Having to port and test an app for compatibility is a non-scalable and non-sustainable model. 

Maybe I just think the sky could fall, but can you understand why I'm beginning to cringe?  What are your thoughts?  How many apps are on your smartphone or tablet device today?

1 Comment

Apps have become the me-too gimmick for the current regime of consumer marketers, much like websites were not so long ago. Do I really need to do everything on the go? Do I really want to swipe through 72 icons on my phone screen? Convenience is nice, but I always consider whether I really need to do something on my phone before I download an app. (I do have Angry Birds though... It's just enough to keep a kid amused when you're stuck waiting somewhere.)

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