The Power of Apps (and Stores)

Apple iOS App Store is definitely a huge success and it also boosts the great success of iPhone and iPad. Everyone else is trying to copy this as a business model afterwards. Android Market, Ovi Store, Windows Phone Marketplace[*], Palm App Catalog, etc. (Let’s call them “app stores”.)

Apple is still leading the game by bringing App Store to Macs. I don’t know how long it will take for PCs to catch up, but the first week of Evernote on the Mac App Store is really astonishing, which shows that the apps and app stores are going to be the new gold mine.

What are Apps, literally

Wait a moment! What about APT? Isn’t APT the first app store for desktop OS, long before Apple’s App Store came into being?

No. First, APT doesn’t sell apps. Second, and more importantly, APT doesn’t sell apps.

Apps are different from the concept of software. Apps are Application Software. Apps help people do something in the real world. That is what app is all about.

Device drivers are not apps. Antivirus software(s) are not apps. File managers are not apps. Disk partitioners are not apps. Launchers, optimizers, monitors and controllers are not apps. We used to be familiar with all these system tools/utilities. Actually, they were what concerned me most when using computers.

But that’s absolutely not what computers (and mobile phones) are supposed to do. We want to listen to music. We want to watch movies. We want to gain knowledge and information. We want to share photos and interacts with friends. More commonly, we want to get things done using computers without getting frustrated by all the settings and buzz words that ordinary people are not supposed to understand.

That is the experience users are willing to pay a few bucks for.

Why apps will rule

Apps will rule because system software is destined to disappear from our view.

The logic is so simple that it sounds like a joke: People don’t use a computer for the sake of using it. We use computers for everything except wasting our lives making systems work.

However, we are wasting our time making our computers work. Tweaking around the systems might be fun for geeks. But most users will feel lucky if they just forget about them. And yes, they are lucky as the software world outside app stores is shrinking [+].

If we could divide our usage of computer into two parts: apps and the rest, the rest part should be minimized and kept away from users’ attention. Apps will dominate the center of universe (of software).

In this sense, computer systems are like windows. Window frames will disappear if we focus our mind on the beautiful scenery we see through the glass. So why not make the frame simpler and clean the glass so they don’t block the view?

(That’s why Windows is nothing like a window.)

Why app stores will rule

App stores are helping us achieving the goal. Users don’t need to worry about how to find an app, pay the developer, download and install it. It’s done automatically by simple clicks (and taps).

Remember how the traditional setup process bothers everyone? The installer will ask you for administrator privileges, setup directories and some extra options. Many people just click “next” all the way to “finish” and pray that it won’t mess up the system because it could do almost everything using its admin right. Viruses, malware and Trojans could come along. Meanwhile we could have compatibility problems, dependency hell, or even BSOD / Kernel Panic.

More or less, app stores save us from that. What’s more, app stores act like a central arena for all the applications and their developers. Great apps by small developers could get much more exposure than before, thanks to rankings, promotions and user ratings by the store. But I’m not going to discuss about that.

Actually, app stores are platforms and frameworks for apps. Along with the OS, they are trying to take care of everything but apps. They are the window frames for apps. They are the software infrastructure for devices. They are also what users should not care about.

How’s this possible

It’s interesting to see the greatness of app stores and ask “why didn’t I invent that before Apple?”

Well, as a matter of fact, there were kinds of app stores before Apple launched its App Store. But none of them are popular. Though there’re tons of business reasons for that, I would argue that app stores are the invention of our time.

The key factor of the success of app stores is of course apps. Great app store enables great apps. Great apps make an app store great. So what enables more great apps? Here’s a few of them.

  • High performance: At least, this means developers don’t need to worry too much about the language they are supposed to use. No need to embed assembly code to maximize the performance. If heavy computation is a must, refer to Cloud computing below.
  • Fast Internet: App store is just a ridiculous idea without a high-speed Internet connection.
  • Cloud storage: Many apps store data over the Internet. In fact, many apps are actually clients for Cloud services, like Dropbox.
  • Cloud computing: Don’t like the SDK of the app store? This does not stop you making an app as most of the work could be done by the Cloud. Cross-platform development is much easier because only a lightweight client is needed.
  • Web services: Apps generally can’t talk to each other. But they can interact with web services provided by 3rd parties. This makes “share on Twitter/Facebook” possible in all these apps. This makes service integration super easy.

And many more…

For app developers, app stores also spell “plenty of limitations”. But as technology advances, all that messy stuff will no longer prevent us from making better apps for computers.

When it become easy to develop a great app despite all the constraints, app stores become possible. When app stores become possible, developers could then focus on making great solutions to solve the real needs of our everyday life.

The next

The trend is always obvious for the follows. But it’s never easy to see what’s the next big thing.

What’s the future for app stores and computers? Here’s my clue:

The best window brings you the best views and you don’t even notice it.

[*] An off-topic note: I really can’t understand why Microsoft enjoys using very long phrases of common nones as its product names, like “Public Instant Messaging Connectivity of Microsoft Office Live Communications Server”.

[+] Currently not for businesses and developers.