One really interesting conversation that emerged at the Mobile 2.0 Europe conference last week was about the emerging Apps culture. Clearly, mobile apps (applications, widgets, webapps whatever you want to call them – I’m talking about data-driven experiences on the phone here, irrespective of platform and technology) are in the midst of a renaissance. However, I have also been hearing a lot of critical voices recently talking about “useless” apps and questioning “how many apps do people really use on their phones?” So I made a point at the Developer Day portion of the event that Apps are like Songs which I didn’t actually think was terribly original but people there seemed to jibe with it. Why are apps like songs? Someone else commented that you can “use them once and throw them away” but I’m not sure that captures it – because you don’t throw songs away really. They might stay in your music library unplayed for months or even years only to resurface at the right time. I was reminded of this today when someone challenged me to find an app that made effective use of the “shake” feature. I immediacy called up the “shotgun” app on the iPhone, which is kind of a “one joke app” like the Zippo lighter or the Carling beer. It doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy – and in the case of the Zippo or the Carling (ugh – I hate Carling — but I love the app!) you can see the marketing potential of apps as songs. But it’s not all about new avenues for selling you terrible beer. Apps can be art as well. One of the first apps I ever downloaded for my (then) jailbroken iPhone allowed you to take a picture and share it, as part of an ever-changing collage, with a community of other users who were also using the app that that given moment. No purpose. No monetization angle. But very compelling. Are these apps any less purposeful because a user might only run them a few times? I don’t think so. I think this apps-as-songs approach changes the way we need to think about software development in this context, and also reinforces my belief that software development is a creative discipline.
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