Apple is Preparing us to Live in App Space

| Analysis

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.


Drag Thing

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.



I am starting to wonder if the upcoming release of Wiun7 is in many way irrelevant to Apple. Making the desktop work better for workstation and laptop computers is in many ways last century.

Apple is focusing on how we WILL use computers, not improving how we HAVE used computers.

Ashley Grayson

Give yourself a “clear thinker” biscuit, John. This is the smartest observation I’ve seen so far on this general topic.

Traditional App organization is built around clustering Alternatives (image editors, browsers, FTP programs, etc.) or Flow (outliner-editor-layout). The Recent Apps list has uses, but what you’ve identified is a fascinating issue that Apps need to be accessible by some “connection” that might be invisible or not obvious. Such as the need to pull up the weather App to get a forecast while making a restaurant reservation; you don’t want the patio at 8PM if the storm is due at that time.

This tickles my philosophy that 80% of the time spent on any job is due to not having the right tool at that moment. The future iPhone/iTablet problem may be “How do you remember that the answer is in your hand?”

I’m tempted by the idea that more iPhone navigation will be handled by voice recognition. I got quite a shock when I needed to know when a particular Apple Store closed on a Sunday. I despaired picking the Apple Store bookmark in Safari, waiting for that to load, then finding the Find a Store button on the page, and using the spin wheels to pick the store then waiting for the store page to load, etc. On a whim, I chose the Google App, and the voice option and said, “apple store manhatten beach california;” Instantly I got a simple text result from Google that had the store hours. It just worked.

Of course this doesn’t scale for all users. I know lots of multi-year Mac users who still can’t use words to differentiate what they see at the top of the Application WIndow, from what’s at the top of the Screen.

But at least thinking about this gets us work.


Wishful thinking of technogeeks—not the normal user of computers. Don’t get your hopes up guys. To be honest, the idea of 2500 little apps that do one thing is downright frightful! Think of it this way, if you have to pay a buck for only half, that’s still over a grand! And all on one-trick ponies. Take your workflow image above, and multiply it 10 times! No thanks.



I’m a huge Apple fan, but I hope the experience you’re describing never comes to pass.

I love my iPhone, I love the apps, but there’s no way I want everything in the world programmed into proprietary apps. I like that everything I can reach on the internet is also reachable by Windows user and Linux users and maybe AmigaOS will finally make it’s comeback and be available to them as well.

The world is evolving to run on open standards, and it’s a better place for it.


I grudgingly accept the forced limitations of iPhone apps (lack of multi-processing, lack of data sharing between apps (i.e. no common user directory), poor battery life) on the iPhone because I’m not looking for a full blown computer there. It’s more of a mobile data access device when on the road.

On a tablet I want a full OS. Mac OS. The limited iPhone just won’t work for me on a larger screen with more power. I expect to be able to do more with more power, not less.

John Elberling

you got it, JM. it’s about the computer being reinvented into an any purpose real time instant accessory/extension of your everyday everywhere life. app space as you call it.

sorry folks that want classic full desktop. just not going to happen on the iTab. get a MacBook. unlike netbook PC’s, Apple is not going to cannibalize its laptop sales with a cheaper tablet that does the same things. but some more iLife applications will be simplified and turned into iPhone style apps - certainly iMovie for one. maybe all the iWorks applications too.

one thing worth noting: the much rumored 10.5” screen size of the much rumored coming iTab is exactly 3x the iPhone 3.5” screen size. so you could mosaic exactly 9 iphone size apps on that screen at once. or 9 web pages, etc. or just four apps at a significantly larger size. or one at giant size. or other combinations (depends on apps native landscape/portrait mode too). this screen size multiple can’t just be by accident. Jobs has to intend to feature “multitasking” on the new iTab where you can have/see several apps running at once. and instead of just 20 app icons on the screen as now, obviously room for as many as 180 at once, tho no doubt there would be various options to organize them much better other ways.

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