iPhone ushers us back to heavy-weight apps

OK, if you can call an iPhone app, heavy weight… Just when you thought the rest of the cool apps would all run in a browser, here comes the iPhone. Before this, I thought mobile apps were pretty silly and too much of a pain to distribute. I tried my hand at J2ME, but the carriers have distribution of those really locked down and it is hard for anyone at a grass roots level to get a J2ME app distributed. All of the cool features require special signing certificates that are very carrier specific. (damn you, mobile carriers!!)
In comes the iPhone. Here is a mobile platform that offers a very consistent set of features and has a very large installed base. It has a huge cool factor (yes, even this long after it originally launched). The app store really changed the model for distributing mobile applications. Now, anyone (given a $99 entry fee) can become an iPhone developer. OK, I’m hearing people say $99 isn’t all, because you need to invest at least $1400 (rough figure) for a development box and device. This is exactly what I started with, and 20″ iMac and iPod touch. OK, but you don’t have to be anyone special to sign up, that’s the point. Anyone with about 1500 bucks and a little skill, creativity and ambition can become an iPhone developer. By all accounts, a lot of people have! 800 million app downloads to 30 million devices and 25,000 apps available in the app store! Holy cow! Now, that’s a markeplace! Developers keep 70% of the revenue. Good for Apple, good for us.
Today, I was watching a video on crunchgear about the NIN iPhone app and think this really drives home something I’ve been thinking about for a while. People don’t bother doing a really nice web app that runs on the iPhone, they write an iPhone app specifically for their service/movie/band, whatever. I recommend watching the video, just to see the really excellent integration of features on the iPhone and then in their regular web site. Very cool stuff!
I wonder, did the lack of Flash on the iPhone help boost iPhone apps? I certainly didn’t hurt. With Flash, there are a lot of developers who would have been ready to build apps sized for the iPhone. There would have been some really nifty, media-heavy/interactive apps built and deployed over the web (no need for the app store). The one thing that would have been missing is the tight integration with iPhone OS features. Things like geo-location, access to camera/photos/music, accelerometer, etc. I think Flash would have meant fewer native iPhone apps, but the native apps would have been built anyway.
I say, welcome back to the client applications! With a well-managed distribution/update system in place, client apps can be managed very easily. The app store does that reasonably well. I just hope I can build the next iShoot!

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One thought on “iPhone ushers us back to heavy-weight apps

  1. I am a huge fan of the iPhone as a mobile platform, and have found some amazing apps that really leverage the technology in creative ways. The main problem I see emerging with the “heavy” app paradigm on the iPhone is that there seems to be a proliferation of lightweight “heavy” apps. By which I mean really trivial apps that would actually be better (or at east more efficiently) done via the browser. Let’s take the Band apps as an example. If I am a fan of 20 bands and am seduced into getting all 20 band-specific apps for my iPhone, pretty soon my phone is full of trivial apps, that could have been much more efficiently collected as bookmarks to the band’s web sites collected in a single app: the browser. Of course if I am stupid enough to download 20 band apps to my iPhone, my cluttered iPhone is my own problem! But the larger problem is that 20 band apps on the iTunes store means a lower signal to noise ratio on the store. It becomes harder and more frustrating to find the good apps on the store. Perhaps the customer reviews will help sort the wheat from the chaff, but I worry that a low S/N ratio for apps will ultimately lower the chances of new (really good) apps getting noticed.

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