I saw the other day the commercial for Nokia Lumia wireless charger and it got me thinking, will it be the simple and stupid feature that can pull Nokia out of the water?
The Future of Wireless Power
Excellent piece from TheNextWeb which meets my belief that apps production is very similar to movies or songs production where the main difference is the fact you can change it after distribution
And if so, how apps discovery will look like? I am pretty sure it won't be the tedious App Store experience.
It is amazing to see how distribution hasn't been disrupted yet - see how it works in the books world
One of the main problems with Android for app developers contemplating on Android vs. iOs is the fact it is highly fragmented. On iOS you, unconsciously, know that you need only to build one version (Let's keep the example simple) and it will work on all devices, you know that Apple is doing everything to make sure everyone has the latest version and that there is a decent level of backward compatibility. For Android developers things have turned up differently, due to the way Android is "openly" distributed, you can not be rest assured that your app will run the same way or will even run at all on your users' devices. Different incompatible Android versions, devices with different capabilities, OEM customizations and plain third party OS customization turn each Android device to be different then the other and that is usually a bad sign for developers. This infographics says it all.
Android fragmentation is a topic that has been discussed and acknowledged quite thoroughly in the industry and that is not what I want to uncover here. On aspect of the fragmentation, which has been neglected and left out of discussion but has no lesser impact on the apps industry is the variety in terms of screen dimensions, resolutions and input capabilities. This variety in devices input and output capabilities does not really impact you if you are developing apps with minimal user interaction. Thinking of it then it is quite hard to come up with such an example in today's tablet/smartphones world. Most of the apps today are "intensively" focused on user experience needless to say judged totally by the experience itself. To design and develop a "good" user experience towards a single target device, with known screen and input capabilities is something feasible, taking into account even just one more device category then you are in a serious problem.
From a philosophical perspective, I think a "nature" law can be suggested on how good a user experience of an app would be based on how many target platform it addresses, the more platforms targeted, the worse the experience becomes.
Few thoughts in regards to this dark side of fragmentation are:
One practical suggestion for Google to help developers in their decision of whether to target Android is two fold: first, admit the problem. Second provide a live decision making tool that will allow to filter the their existing user base by their devices (or whatever info they got from activations).
Siri, apparently has started a revolution, at least public relations wise since voice activation has been around for quite a while but never seemed to be perfect. It seems people like to talk to her and she responds back. Few in the industry have written on the impact the new voice interaction paradigm might create - Gigaom discusses the potential lost of mobile ad revenues and Bloomberg reports on Siri doubling data volumes. Voice indeed seems as a killer interface at first glance since it is more natural to operate once it is working well. Of course the tolerance for errors is much lower then in touch and it can really drive you mad but it seems that the technological conditions are set for a good working model.
Still, the question of whether we will only talk with our devices in the future and not touch them arise. Before touch we clicked on things and when touch has matured to a good working technology we embraced it without second thought. Old nokia phones (apologize to the ones who read it and still own one:) seem now almost "ancient" as the dial phones seemed to the ones who started using touch tone phones back in previous century. Voice indeed hides such a promise where we can blurb at our phones whatever we want and our wishes will be fullfilled automagically. Let's list the cool use cases we might do with out phones if they were fully voice activated:
And on and on..
So it does look promising but will it replace touch? One of the inner attributes of touch interfaces and mouse based graphical interfaces is the ability to interact in two dimensions. Interacting in two dimensions creates the ability to have a direct access to available data and actions and voice due to its serial nature is limited in this respect. A difference like then that exists among using tape cassettes and CDs, no need to fast forward. This difference puts the voice based interaction into a much more limited scope where it can not replace the rich experience created by the visual and touch interaction. Still, in one area I am sure it will be a welcome replacement and that is where we need to go into serial processes on the phone itself using our rich touch interface - for instance typing texts, I hate it, especially on touch phones, I got big fingers and I wish I could dictate it with a good accuracy. It does not have to be perfect since I got enough mistakes when I type with my touch keyboard so I have some tolerance. Maybe a combination of the two would make a perfect match. Another area would be changing modes or states on the phone where the touch experience has limited value. For example unlocking the phone.
Another major fault of voice interaction is correcting errors and that is by product of the serial vs. direct access interfaces. When you need to fix something said you get into a problem, like in real life with people:).
So what do you think, will voice make us look at touch as an old and dirty interface?
I am a big fun of apps! Both as an apps developer and as a smartphone user started way before the days it was even called a smart phone. I own several phones with all possible operating systems and never miss a chance to install any new app I encounter. I may be a major factor in the total 2011 downloads number in appstores:)
Following this self proclaiming manifest and after I achieved credibility as someone who knows something about apps, I want to go back to the question in the headline. Sarah Perez story on the end of 2011 A Web of Apps started with the following lines:"It is remarkable to think that we’re in the early days of the app era, when there are already close to 600,000 iOS applications and nearly 400,000 on Android (source: Distimo).". For me, these lines assume a-priory that the number of apps will keep growing a lot, at least much more than 1,000,000 apps!, a common notion nowadays.
I think that every person that is somewhat related to the apps industry assumes whether publicly or silently in their "heart" that this number will grow; otherwise there is no much of an industry in it, isn't it so? Of course one can argue that each app can "fatten" up and make more money on its own which means to grow vertical and not horizontal. In my eyes growing vertical after a hyper horizontal growth period is usually a sign for the beginning of a market saturation phase.
To put it in the right perspective, I personally do feel it will grow much more (I got to, I am highly invested in this assumption:) so let's not start pessimisticly:) even considering the mere fact there are so many others not using smartphones and many audiences not being addressed etc.. etc.. then we are ok, aren't we?
To answer the question above I want to see if we can somehow establish our beliefs on some rationale that is at least discuss-able. Or in other words, at least something to help the ones who are highly invested in it to be able to get a good night sleep calmly.
I think mobile apps and their acceptance present a major breakthrough in the computing world and this happened only thanks to the fact that people actually "met" these apps and discovered their existence (thanks Apple for creating the first effective apps distribution channel). The point of convergence of "capable" computing mobile devices, with good enough to go network connectivity and a dynamically loadable small functional units called apps actually created something amazing - the ability to "upgrade" yourself instantly. It always reminds me of the scene from the Matrix where Neo loaded up the Kung Fu learning software and in a minute he was a Kung Fu master. I know we are not there yet but the metaphor has been established. The ability to load new functionality on demand on a computing device, which is actually your avatar since it goes everywhere with you, and then to be able to operate it is quite a leap from usage perspective.
So if we follow this line of thought then we can predict two trends in the apps world for the near future:
1. Apps will become narrower in functionality within time. We are actually witnessing this trend already where you can see every day a new app achieving a very narrow purpose. This won't mean there won't be a place for big "Photoshop" or "Office" like packages which are more like a wholeseller in a box, we will see those but they will not be the majority, not even close. This trend will occur simply because people have shorter and shorter spans of attention and more and more specific needs which can be answered efficiently only by something narrow enough and simple enough to learn and operate it immediately. In general I put the "blame" for this trend on the low bandwidth we have available today for communicating with our phones and unless someone will invent a direct injection of new functionality into our brains we are of stuck with the growing trend of simpler apps. Just to put it in context, narrow apps does not mean "dummy" apps. Actually the narrowing of the apps happens in terms of explicit functionality while there is an expansion in the implicit dimension of making the app adaptive to the specific context of the user which enables easier operation of the suggested functionality. This adaptation may require more technological investment in the app then other explicit features. For example Siri, has a very simple and narrow explicit functionality (she just listens and talks back with one button) while behind the scenes it holds a huge technological effort.
2. Thanks to the growing number of sensors and interfaces on mobile devices (and I know of few more developments in this area which are exciting) as well as the better connectivity options we will witness more and more human needs that will be addressable by apps. For example the accelerometer which now assists people who run with their calculations and effort tracking, something that was not possible before this sensor was available.
These two trends point towards a growth horizon that is very clear that lies on the axis of the diverse set of unique and shared human needs. If we add to this equation locality, languages, gender, ages, cultures, religions and other social grouping criteria then we run into a very big number. A number that is big enough to take us to the point where we will stop counting how many apps are out there in the very near future.
One question that I still haven't got answer for lies is in the title of the original story that got me started "A web of apps". The question is whether we can do a comparison to the growth of the world wide web. I know it is not necessarily what Sarah Perez intended to discuss in her story, which was more about potential apps discovery by connecting apps. Still, there are many talks about whether apps will grow in the same growth pace as web sites did. Websites grew and keep growing mainly on the axis of topical interest or knowledge areas and from a gut feeling it feels like it represents a much bigger growth axis. Maybe more on this in a later post.
What do you think? Will it grow forever?
I have been enjoying my first iPad for the last year and few weeks ago I got a new one, iPad 2. I knew I should not expect to many new features on it except for better speed and camera support. Indeed it felt very fast. Very fast in comparison to my first old iPad. And then I got a weird felling about the improvement, as if someone cheated me. Actually it was not faster at all in comparison to my first iPad If I were to compare it with the speed of the first iPad on the day I bought it and unwrapped it from the box before installing stuff and working with it. Indeed my first iPad became so slow that the second one seems like a miracle but this is just a fix and not a real improvement!
So.... Eventually I understood that actually the iPad product is going through a similar evolutionary path (and I guess also iPhone) to the one Windows/Intel a.k.a Wintel duo went through recent decades. To the ones who don't understand what I am talking about, the Wintel duo was actually a rat race, every once in a while a new hardware would come, new and shiny and seems to work very fast and then all the developers of the apps running on it see that there is a "room" for more features and complicated changes. The developers made their software better and then magically the same "new" device would become slower and slower. So painful slow that a new version of the same device seems like a true hero with its speed improvements. But this is just an illusion, the new version just fixes the speed problems incurred by the all the software that was "added" on it during its lifetime and eventually every version of the hardware just imrpoves the whole product enough to reach the same initial starting point in terms of speed.
For years it was a duo conducted by MS Windows and Intel and now it seems that the same effect happens on iPad. It seems that once there is a status quo of speed set by some new category hardware (like the iPad, iPhone or PCs were initially when they were launched) then it will never be improved dramatically across versions, actually the improvements from each version to the other one will be just enough to reach the status quo again. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but not too much.
Another thought is that on the MS-Windows and Intel duo they were always a suspect of some kind of duopoly coordinating their acts but now it is clear that these are just market forces since on iPad, apps are being developed by disconnected 3rd party companies.
The mysterious thing to me in this behavior is the human angle. Why when there is a new product being invented/built such as the first iPhone then there is always a serious leap in capabilities of the product while later versions are always constrained to some "magical" boundary of improvement. Is it a matter of market demand and competition forcing the companies to small improvements or some kind of framing being created by the mere product definition, a framing that is vague enough to be broken when a new product is being devised.
Want to express your thoughts on the topic - see my question on Quora
In Israel everyone await for seeing the face of Gilad Shalit on an Israeli soil. Although we are paying a really high price still Israel was broken knowing one of us is being captive.
I hope this is my last post on this and Gilad will return to his life healthy and unhurt.
P.S. Once Gilad will be back I will put down giladshalit.fr and twitter account giladshalitfr. I will be very happy to do so!