Yesterday I realized I had 73 apps on my iPhone. 73! But how many do I actually use, even infrequently? 28. And how many do I really care about, or dare I say, need? 11.
The fact is that many apps are little more than dumbed-down versions of the full experience you’d get from just visiting the author’s website with your mobile browser. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Amazon, eBay, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, etc. are generally less functional than their website equivalents. And they crash, require regular updates, don’t let you do handy things like zoom or copy and paste, and worst of all, do underhanded things like give away your location and other personal data without you knowing.
Having worked in the tech business for the past 3 decades I’ve come to realize that many projects get done simply to show you’re current with the times. Like make an app. If you want to appear up to date in the tech business today, you need to offer a mobile app. It doesn’t matter if your product is a network router or a refrigerator comparison website, you NEED TO HAVE A MOBILE APP. And that’s why Apple now has 800,000 apps in their app store. But is that a good thing?
When I think of the apps that I truly value, they generally fall into two of four categories — Communication/Productivity such as email, calendar, phone, browser, messaging, notes and lists; and Functional, which include camera/photo-editing/scanning, maps & location-based services, banking (i.e. mobile check deposit) and remote control (i.e. NEST thermostat, Apple Remote, video surveillance)
A third category, entertainment, is one I personally don’t use much, largely because I’m not a gamer. But these apps are arguably the most sophisticated and creative. And statistics show more time is spent in them than any other category.
Then there’s the most over-represented and least valuable, fourth category: informational. These are the apps that I find most disappointing and annoying — as they’re always being shoved down our throats (or networks). Visit most magazine, newspaper, shopping or other informational sites and you’ll get that predictable, insistent “download our app” pop-up every time you visit. They force you to take action to *not* download their app. And if you agree to download, you’re forced to learn an entirely new navigational paradigm, one that is neither as functional or intuitive as what you get from just visiting their website.
I expect that as HTML5 and other Web technologies continue to improve, the vast majority of these informational apps will disappear. They’re already a waste of resources to build — resources that would be better spent improving the website experience.
To be fair, there are a few informational apps that I find somewhat more engaging than their websites. Weather apps, for example. The best ones, like Living Earth or Yahoo Weather, go out of their way to act like entertainment apps with cool use of graphics and animation. But still, these apps are largely providing information that a browser bookmark can just as easily get you to.
So if I’m really only using 11 of the 73 apps I downloaded, or 15%, does that mean that only 120,000 apps of the 800,000 in Apple’s app store are really being used? Or does it mean that only 11 of the 800,000 apps are being used? I expect it’s closer to the latter.