Has our appetite for apps gone wild or are we just on the appetizer?

September 20, 2010

Maybe we need an ‘app’endectomy!

I’ve been thinking about apps. Apps is an abbreviation for application. An app is a piece of software. It can run on the Internet, on your computer, or on your phone or other electronic device.

From games to geo tracking, with Google or Apple, on computers to smart phones: you name it, there is an app for that or will be soon. They are ubiquitous.

Social media maven, Alan Wolk (The Toad Stool, Kickapps, Hive Awards) was in our office the other day discussing apps and their implications to marketing communications, specifically the right and wrong ways to make apps. Clients are clamoring for apps, he said, but most of them don’t know why. They just know that apps are the new, new thing and they want one…or two…or a whole bunch. As you would expect, we agencies are creating them, often as willy-nilly as the demands. Alan calls it the “Field of Dreams” mentality. You know, ‘build it and they will come.’ Like all things Internet related, the apps debate quickly becomes one of utility vs. beauty. Like all things marketing related, the obvious answer is they gotta do both.

But I wonder about apps. If there are currently three million of them (a wild guess) I’m not so wildly guessing three million nine hundred and fifty thousand of them are relatively pointless. Maybe even more. I say relatively because once someone downloads an app, pointless or not, it has proved beneficial to its creator.

But then what? My kids download countless apps (hopefully free) only to banish them within 24 hours into the nether regions of our family’s computers. Like fireworks, once ignited they are immediately forgotten. Like fireworks, we want to see another and another and another…

Ah, you say, but if the app is useful then that won’t happen.

Alan provided an excellent anecdote to illustrate this point. Upon arriving in Chicago, he had an hour to kill before his presentation. He fancied a latte from Starbucks but, alas, he did not know where one was. So, he was forced to ask someone. According to Alan, if he’d had an app for locating a nearby Starbucks he would not have had to ask someone for directions.

Two things come to mind. 1) What is so difficult about asking someone where the nearest Starbucks is and 2) even if he had an app for that wouldn’t he still have had to ask someone where the address actually was? (Sure, he could study the little map on his iphone but being ignorant of the city he’d probably want to be pointed in the right direction. Just to make sure. Wouldn’t you?)

Going one step further, isn’t communicating with people one of the joys of travel? Do we really want technology to take things like that away from us, those myriad small interactions that make us human? I’m already an introvert. With apps like these I may never talk to anyone!

Look, I realize I’m essentially wrong about this. (I remember all the rubes that said Twitter was pointless.) And even if I wasn’t wrong the app train has left the station. As I said, plenty of apps are worthwhile. No question companies such as Kickapps can help agencies and clients create them. Frankly, we’re talking to Kickapps about a project right now.

I’m no Luddite. I’d just like to think I could find a Starbucks without a goddamn app!


6 Responses to “Has our appetite for apps gone wild or are we just on the appetizer?”

  1. As much as we know that we need to stay current, you nicely captured the feelings I have about our industry and society in general – that too many trains have left the station and there’s no going back. This has created a real quandary for those of us who take the time to think, because common sense has also gone somewhere far away. More than ever, people seem enamored with what’s new and shiny just because it’s new and shiny, never thinking that worn and patinaed may provide the comfort we really need.

    • SRP said

      Speaking of “worn and patina” there’s an app that makes your computer screen look old and static-y…
      Just kidding 😉
      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Alan Wolk said

    Most technological advances replace something that already worked pretty well (think email vs telephone) and the advantages of the new technology are incremental rather than monumental.

    In the Starbucks example, I might have gone directly to the Starbucks (taxi driver would have known the address), I had to wait for someone to come along who actually knew where the nearest Starbucks was, and, had I known there was no Starbucks near your office, I’d have found one before I got into the taxi.

    And you’re right: all the above instances are really minor and didn’t really make any sort of appreciable change in my day. It’s in the aggregate – lots of little experiences add up.

    As it was, I asked the security guard as I was leaving and after asking me how my speech went, he pointed me to the Starbucks one block down and one block to the right. A far more satisfying experience than using an app.

    • SRP said

      Satisfaction -in this case re user experience is a vastly underrated concept. I think many people like the idea of an app or it’s veneer more than the actuality of it -Yes, No?

  3. Alan Wolk said

    Smart phones are still in their infancy – they’re at the stage the internet was at when we had dial-up modems. If you recall those days (not all that long ago!) while you could technically log onto AOL and find out the weather forecast, the amount of time it took to log on and then navigate through the slow-loading site meant it was often quicker to drive over to the local newsstand, buy a paper and look at the weather page.

    But it was the promise of what *could* be that had so many of us intrigued. Same with apps – at some point, all this will be a lot more seamless– and faster– than it is right now, which will lead to a better user experience.

  4. On Monday, I just used an app to find the nearest chinese food when I found out I had over an hour to kill before being expected back to jury duty. In less than 30 seconds I had discovered a place (ended up going Thai instead, but the point still stands), and had a real-time updating map that showed me where I was standing and where the restaurant was. After walking a quarter block in the wrong direction, I turned around and was on my way (the updating map clued me in to my mistake). Overall – app success.

    And, before I even went to the app, I did ask a security guard if he knew of a good place. His answer of a fast food chinese place more than a few blocks away was what prompted me to go to the app. Technology 1, people 0 in this scenario.

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