We’re always talking about how far technology has come. It’s the cool thing to say as a writer, but usually it’s spot on. This is especially so in the case of software.
At one time, software often inspired thoughts of Word, Excel, and other products that became household names in the Windows universe. Now we tend to think of software as apps that come in tiny little packages and have a huge range of capabilities. Fast and furiously, the app revolution has changed the face of software and everything associated with how we use it.
Come One, Come All!
In the past, software applications were created by a handful of companies. It took some serious monetary cheddar to the pull together the resources to build a single program. Today’s marketplace is populated with far more builders and greater opportunities to boot. Thanks to Apple’s App Store, Google’s Android Market, and even Facebook to a degree, developers have convenient access to platforms that are almost too good to be true. An independent developer can reach customers all around the world through an ecosystem that handles sales, distribution, and even a great deal of the marketing.
An Economical Marketplace
Programs like Adobe PhotoShop, Sony Vegas, and Windows Server will still hit you for a pretty penny, but the price of software overall has come down considerably. Just look at all the cheap apps. Whether it’s the App Store, Google Play, or the Windows Marketplace, software in most shops is usually priced no higher than five bucks a pop. A lot of the good stuff is totally free, too. This new pricing strategy is a digital wonderland for consumers who want to load up their smartphone or tablet without spending a lot of the money. Having said that, it’s kind of like a double-bladed light saber for developers.
For a company like NetFlix, passing out a free app is a great marketing strategy. The freedom to enjoy the movie streaming experience and manage their account from anywhere keeps users happy and reminded why they should continue to pay their subscription every month. An app with this type of functionality might be difficult to maintain for a lone developer, far too much to offer free. And with the distributor taking about 30 percent off the top, such generous price cuts mean you have to move a lot of units in order to see a decent profit. Still, it’s a gamble worth taking for many developers.
Beyond budget-friendliness, easy access is probably the most important key to app success. When desktop computing ruled the land, running the simplest piece of software entailed tossing a disc in your optical drive, extracting ZIP files, firing up the installer, and customizing the installation process. Nowadays, installing software is as easy as a few taps and you’re good to go! App stores even simplify discovery with built-in search features as well as screenshots, ratings, and reviews that make finding what you want a breeze. Cheap and easily accessible. Those are two tasty ingredients to a recipe that has produced fantastic results for small software.
Admirable Piracy Protection
The digital era has been a nightmare for music, movies, and software as far as piracy is concerned. Software vendors fought back with licensing restrictions that made us all think twice about how many machines will get a copy of a given program. App stores generally combat piracy in two ways: giving developers the option to use digital rights management (DRM) technology that prevents unauthorized access with encryption, and limiting the number of times an app can be installed on different devices. While app piracy does exist, it hasn’t ballooned to the point where people are downloading them from torrent sites and shady mirror portals – at least not yet.
Where There’s Room For Improvement
So far, we’ve talked about how apps have had a positive impact on software. But not all is peachy in this friendly and flexible land. One key area apps can stand to improve in is the quality department. In its article 10 Android App Flops, Business Insider examines a crop of mobile applications that failed to deliver for one reason or another. These apps were generally found to suffer from ails such as instability, failure to make optimal use of resources, and just not living up to expectations.
The Android Market isn’t the only channel pushing troublesome apps. However, quality tends to be a bigger issue here due to how Google runs its platform. Android has a reputation for allowing more customization, but sacrificing performance because of these freedoms, in addition to its tendency to run on lower quality hardware. Apple’s iOS is known to be more intuitive and easier to build for, despite having more rigorous development guidelines. Since they generally open their platforms to anyone, both are unfortunately populated with more poorly designed apps than decent ones.
Apps could also benefit from better evaluation strategies. More email service providers, data visualization vendors, and other companies are offering their software on a free trial basis. You might get anywhere from two weeks to 30 days to play with the product, get familiar with the controls, and determine if it meets your needs before making a commitment to buy it. This process also gives the company an opportunity to gain valuable feedback and insights that can be used to improve their software. If more developers adopted a similar mentality, it could cut down on a lot of the buggy and generally crappy apps on the market.
A Future Worth Banking On
In what seems like no time, apps have broken free of their tether to traditional software and created a thriving new market all their own. According to Apple, the App Store alone made over $13 billion in 2013. While the landscape certainly isn’t perfect, the fact that apps have nowhere to go but up has to be encouraging for software, the developer community, and the people who use it.
Top Photo Credit: Jason Howie via Flickr