There’s an App For That: But Why?

As I’ve been using the new HP 5102 netbook these past few weeks I’ve been surprised at just how much I am able to accomplish with very few applications loaded to the machine. I have DropBox, Seemsic Desktop and FireFox loaded, also ThumbsPlus for managing images…and that’s about it. Even so I’m spending a lot of very productive time with this little machine, mostly reading (Google Reader) and writing (Google Docs & WordPress.)

So much of what I do these days is “in the cloud.” Actually, I suspect that “in the cloud” is a mischaracterization of things. Let’s just say that they’re based upon web services as opposed to locally installed applications. I suspect that the same could be said of many iPad users.

Tim Higgins over at Small Net Builder has a nice two-part story detailing his impressions of his first couple of weeks with an iPad. It’s an interesting read as he contrasts his behavior using the iPod Touch vs the iPad. The use case is the same but the hardware platform makes a marked difference in his approach to various common activities.

But then it dawned that I didn’t need to bother with the apps at all, since I had a web browser (albeit a crippled one that doesn’t handle Flash) with a netbook-sized screen capable of displaying full web pages in either portrait or landscape. So I haven’t opened either of those apps in a week or so, instead clicking on the bookmark I made for the Times’ website.

…and further…

I’ve already stopped checking the App Store daily to see what’s new and instead just open Safari and use the iPad just like I do my other machines for accessing web content. I can see why Apple was said to be positioning the iPad as a gaming platform. For those and time-wasters like iFart, iBeer and their ilk, you do need to download an app…at least until non-Flash web versions are developed.

This is to my mind just a little bit counter-intuitive. The new form factor of the iPad hardware actually eliminates a lot of the need for those little apps that were at the core of so much of the iPhone/iPod Touch economics.

Last week I was talking with a friend who works at a TV station where he’s responsible for New Media projects. That includes managing the companies brand on services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as coordinating staff blogs and such.

He’s worked to get the TV station their own little iPhone app, but he notes that most such applications are really just a branded wrapper around a browser. It’s useful in the confined display on the iPhone, less so on the iPad. Yet he also notes that iPhone users are the dominant mobile audience for their web site.

I’ve always wondered why people buy some of the more inane little apps that I hear about in the iTunes app store? I’ve long wondered just how many of the many thousands of apps they offer are genuinely useful vs simply amusing for a few minutes?

What is the app store signal-to-noise ratio? Why should I commit precious funds or memory to a downloaded weather app when I can just as easily use a browser and a bookmark to access weather.com?

At the end of the day I wonder how many iFart millionaires will there be? People who’s fortunes are built upon trivial little apps, sold for a dollar, that get a giggle but are then quickly forgotten?

These are all little curiosities to me as I’ve never had an iTunes account. I’ve never felt the need for one.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Apple hater. I respect and admire their product designs and most of all their incredible marketing prowess. They are essentially unrivaled in that area. I may yet end up with an iPad or a MacBook Pro, if there’s a business case for it.

On the other hand, certain over-reactive and very controlling aspects of their behavior do raise some questions, but that’s a matter for another day.

Certainly no-one is getting rich on my current lack of app habit, least of all Apple & Microsoft.