“Apps” have become the modern “great differentiator” between devices. ‘MY app store has more apps than their app store, so buy MY smartphone. It’s obviously better than theirs.’ Well, that’s the implication anyway. Marketeers love this; it’s Marketing 101–they teach it in school. Find and flog the key differentiator(s) between your product and their product. If you can’t find one, then invent one.
But “apps” (as ‘defined’ by Apple and now Google, Nokia; and I’ve even read that Microsoft is considering the idea for Windows “8”) are bad, VERY bad. They’re bad for consumers; they’re bad for developers and they’re bad for the computing industry in general. They’re only good for Apple (and possibly Google, Nokia, et al.), but not indefinitely.
Here’s how the “app” marketing concept works. 1) Design a proprietary device or platform. E.g. iPod or iPhone. 2) Find a consumable that works on only that proprietary device or platform. E.g. iTunes download or iPhone “app”. 3) Market the hell out of that consumable in an effort to sell as many of that device or platform as possible.
We’ve been down that road before. In some cases, the consequences were minor and no one really cares (or cared) too much. In other cases, the consequences were huge and whole industries were forced to standardize by market and regulatory pressures. Here are some examples…
Razor blades. Each razor maker ensures that only their brand of razor blades will fit their razor. If you buy their razor, you’re locked into buying their razor blades. The profit is in the razor blades. Fortunately, one doesn’t invest much money, time or emotions into their collection of razor blades, so I don’t think anyone really cares about this. Here’s a more serious example…
Ink cartridges. Each printer maker ensures that only their brand of ink cartridges will fit their printers. They even give away the printers to woo consumers into locking themselves into their proprietary recurring ink cartridge revenue stream. The profit is in the ink cartridges. The printer makers even engage in FUD tactics — Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt. The spread fear by warning that the printer warranty will be void if you don’t use their ink cartridges. They create uncertainty and doubt by claiming only their ink cartridge brand will actually work or produce good quality output. However, most folks have figured this one out and aren’t too concerned about it.
Telephone networks. Most folks today probably won’t remember this through firsthand experience. However, you might remember that in some old movies, the business tycoon would have two or more phones on his desk. Why?
It’s because in the early days of telephones, several different network operators emerged but there were no interconnection standards. If you wanted to talk to Person A, you had to have an account with (and a telephone connected to) whichever network operator Person A had chosen. Ditto for Person B and so one. You had to remember to pick up and dial on the right phone to reach a particular party. It was a terrible situation.
Eventually the industry and regulators recognized this and developed a standard way of interconnecting the networks so that each user would need only one phone and that all numbers could be reached regardless of the network operator to which they were subscribed. And telephones flourished.
How about the original chaos in email addressing (before the invention of the domain name) or the myriad of instant messaging systems that don’t interoperate (MSN, AOL, Yahoo, ICQ, Skype, etc.) Does this sound familiar?
Which brings me to “apps”. When is an “app” not a legitimate “app”? When it’s just an iPad/iPhone/Android/Blackberry proprietary rehash of a perfectly good existing web site that can be accessed with a perfectly ordinary standard web browser on any capable device. Typical examples are “apps” for online banking sites, “apps” for airline sites, “apps” for Facebook and Twitter and in general any “app” that replicates the functionality of any web site. These are costly diversions where no one actually benefits and there is no genuine advantage to the consumer.
The proliferation of these web-site-rehashes only serves to vacuously pump up app store numbers, support proprietary platforms while disingenuously feeding off the popularity of the hot device du jour.
Instead of rehashing, put the money into supporting industry standard protocols, such as HTML, and the devices that can play those protocol and stop fueling the platform wars. Stop the “app” insanity!
Well, that’s my take on it–what’s yours?