“Smartphones are the new platform, and apps are the core,” says Douglas Dixon, an independent technology consultant, author, and speaker specializing in digital media. “In just a year and a half, the Apple App Store for iPhone users has surpassed 140,000 applications, and users have downloaded more than 3 billion apps. — Not bad for a new market that was created only a year and a half earlier.”
At the February 24 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Dixon explored the range of apps being developed for these new platforms. Beyond rude sound effects and popping bubbles, developers are leveraging both the intelligence of handsets and the power of back-end cloud computing to provide new kinds of timely
He began by demonstrating how easy it is to search and locate apps at Apple’s App Store from the device or computer, and to synchronize the iPhone with one’s collection of music on iTunes. The App Store listings include screen shots, user ratings, and easy access to dedicated web pages about each app. Many of the popular apps are games and silly diversions. Based on your apps, the Genus feature also will recommend other apps that you are likely to enjoy.
In comparison, the Motorola Droid from Verizon is based on the Google Android platform. The Android Market also has lots of games and other apps, some free and some for fee. It’s easy to find popular apps including Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, and Google Earth, and the listings kindly show the apps that you have already installed. Unlike Apple, Google does not manually review apps for inclusion in its app market. Users have the primary role in ranking, rating, and tagging apps. And Google automatically notifies users about updates to their apps.
Dixon also demonstrated the Microsoft Zune wireless player, which has a nice interface that automatically organizes your apps, recent updates, and your music and personal information. The new Microsoft Phone platform, due at the end of this year, will discard the old Windows Mobile interface for this Zune style. Microsoft Phone also goes beyond individual apps to feature “hubs” for games, people, photos, and music that combine relevant information. No longer would you have a need to go to a variety of separate apps like mail, Flikr, and Facebook. All of the relevant data will be in a single place.
Says Dixon, these devices combine three really interesting and powerful characteristics. First, they are impressive little computers with a decent processor, gigabytes of memory, and a readable screen. Second, they have sensors in them aware of their orientation and their GPS position. Some also have built in cameras and microphones. And they are connected to the cloud. As a result, we can begin to rethink how to do things.
Then there are location-based services that now go beyond displaying maps and finding a near-by Starbucks to reporting the lowest local prices for gas, and providing the pulse of the neighborhood from real-time Twitter feeds.
And new “augmented reality” services can use the smartphone’s camera to provide information on what’s around you — to look up a product bar code, or an interesting building or painting, or to identify the buildings that you see in front of you. Point at a record album and get all of the product information. Soon you can point at a person and view their Facebook page.
It’s an amazing new world, placing the power of cloud computing in your back pocket, all at a store near you.
Douglas Dixon is an independent technology consultant, author, and speaker specializing in digital media. A graduate of Brown University, and previously a product manager and software developer at Intel and Sarnoff, he is the author of four books, has published hundreds of feature articles over the past decade, has presented over a hundred seminars and talks, and provides expert witness services. Doug makes his articles and technical references freely available on his Manifest Technology blog and website.
The podcast is available.