I love my iPhone. It's a cool device with lots of free and low-cost apps at my finger tips, but I've been wondering lately if some of these Apps are a good thing. I mean, why do I need a dedicated New York Times app, for example? Why doesn't the NYT simply detect that I'm on a mobile device in my browser and display a mobile site? Seems a lot more convenient and cost-effective for everyone (but Apple, that is).
Apps are great and at their best give you access to content in an interesting package, but at the same time, apps also promote content silos. That means, instead of linking out to the web and sharing data across different sites, you are basically locked into the site within the app. That's great for the publisher who gets your full attention, but not so great for you as a user, who has to open a browser to get at news outside of the content publisher's App.What's Wrong with Apps
There's nothing wrong with Apps per se, except in some cases we pay a price to be locked inside the app. Before I go too far, let me say that there are plenty of apps that are perfectly suited to this system such as games or the one that turns my iPhone 3G still camera into a video camera . These are applications that extend the iPhone's functionality giving you tools you wouldn't otherwise have. Where I have a problem is when publishers start using the system to lock you into their content.
The Web's Where It's At
John Blossom , presiden at Shore Communications, Inc and author of the book, Content Nation says the App Store succeeded in part because Apple did not go out of its way to make the Web a fully functional environment on mobile platforms. He says the need for these types of stand-alone apps may be diminishing, however, with the development of HTML 5.
"As the speed and reliability of mobile broadband connections to the web has improved, so has the ability to get valuable mobile services directly from the Web. With the introduction of HTML 5, a Web standard that incorporates sophisticated programming tools into the coding used to develop Web pages, the line between a Web page and a software application is becoming more blurred than ever. As mobile browsers make it easier to discover good content and functionality on the Web, the value of "app stores" may become more of a question mark in the minds of people using mobile devices," Blossom says.
That leaves the question: At what point does having individual apps for every publisher become chaotic and inconvenient? I know that's part of the reason Apple added the Spotlight to the iPhone OS last year, to help us find Apps, but I can't help but wonder if we wouldn't be better served on the web where we already have the help of search engines to find the sites we we seek.
Publishers could still use the mobile web as a possible revenue source, but if they still want to create an app, they need to find value over and above the content we get on the web because if publishers are merely reproducing the content we get elsewhere in an isolated silo, it's a patently bad idea and one we should reject outright.
Photo by Aunt Owwee on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.