I admit it. I’m overwhelmed by apps. I don’t even have the app leading iPhone, but I feel like I’m swimming in an endless pool of apps on my Android phone. I can’t even imagine what the poor iPhone users feel. I rely on a few trusted tech blogs and word-of-mouth to find useful apps these days. Searching through the store of available apps on my phone is a fruitless activity, with too many apps that claim to do the same thing causing more confusion than clarity.
Is this really the future of mobile and the mobile web? In our non-mobile computing, we’ve been moving away from installed applications to browser based tools for almost a decade. From IM clients to social media updating tools, as soon as someone makes it just as good (or better) with a fully web-based program, everyone rushes to adopt the browser-based tool.
For applications that require more than an internet connection to be useful (video editing tools, graphics applications, computer gaming) they retain a niche audience that uses said application, or they get adopted into the next version of operating systems by Microsoft or Apple.
I’m not naive enough to think that apps are going away. There will always be a market for specialized apps that solve a problem for a specific niche audience. But I do think that apps are a result of deficiencies in today’s mobile phone operating systems and web browsers.
I suspect in the years to come, we will see trends similar to what happened with personal computers over the past decade. Smartphone processing speeds and operating systems will get better and incorporate many of the features that are found in the most downloaded apps (Facebook, Twitter, IM, etc.). Mobile web speeds will continue to improve and browsers will evolve to allow developers to build the same thin-client, browser based tools that we get on our computers (online banking, content/blog management tools, HootSuite, Meebo). Many of these developers will be making the leap from a very successful app to a browser-based service when the technology is right.
Both of these trends will eliminate the need for many of the most downloaded apps, and I say good riddance. I’d much rather visit a series of bookmarked web addresses on my (much improved) mobile browser than juggle the need to find, download, update, and use hundreds of individual applications.