When all we had were PCs and Macs, we thought of apps as programs that provided a function: word processing or web browsing or a disk utility. Magically, however, the portability of the iPhone has encouraged developers to think on a grander scale about what an app is -- even to the extent that every popular TV show should have its own app. That progression will change everything.
A traditional app is a good tool only if you find it, like it and use it. For many, who have a daily work flow, like we all do here at the Mac Observer, that workflow requires the use of a suite of Macintosh apps used over and over.
Here are my workflow apps as an example.
The fascinating thing about the iPhone, however, is that we're not really focused on workflow, but, rather, point events. For example, say I want to find out about some special event in Washington, D.C. Fire up USA Today app. I need to find the closest Red Lobster restaurant. I fire up Urban Spoon. I need to find where I parked my car. I fire up G-Park app. Our lives on the iPhone are a sequence of focused events rather than a traditional invocation of a productivity app. We don't live in an app, we live in "app space."
That's why, I believe the iPhone development process has been so successful. Developers are about the business of helping customers obtain piecemeal information, organized on their iPhone, even to the point of having information that's free and readily available on the Internet in a browser, but better formulated and better presented. One great example is the emerging category of apps for popular TV shows like Gossip Girl or The Office.
It may not be convenient to lug a notebooks computer to a business lunch, or fumble with Safari on a 3.5 inch screen, but if you want to find out the latest rumors and news about ABC's Lost...
... there's an app for that.
In that context, we don't mean there is a surfeit of apps. Rather, we mean that when you need focused, relevant, and handy information, there's an app that gives you what you need. Right now.
App Space on an iTablet
The next logical step is to ask how an Apple iTablet would expand and magnify that concept even further. In other words, what should the design elements of the iTablet be, in terms of hardware, software, user interface, that would encourage and extend that kind of app?
One of the failings of the UMPC was that it tried to extend the metaphor of the desktop to a hand held device. It was not only hard to implement, given screen size and battery power, but approached the problem the wrong way.
An iTablet is likely to have much greater capability for these kinds of next generation apps. While we can only load about 148 apps out of 85,000 on an iPhone at one time, we could expect to see perhaps several thousand on an iTablet, all managed by a suitable UI devised by Apple. The iTablet would do for iPhone apps what the original iPod did for music. Indeed, there was a time when the mind boggled at the idea of 5,000 songs in one's pocket.
If you think an iPhone app for a TV show is over the top, just wait until the iTablet ships and the available apps jump to a quarter million, of which you may have 2,500 installed, all ready and waiting to give you that one bit of key information you need, without tedious Internet searching, interpretation, scrolling and reformulation to get just what you want. Of course, the challenge for Apple will be to devise a UI that makes finding just the right app easy.
Apps will never be the same once we start living in app space.