News coming out of the Le Web conference in Paris this week has prompted me to look at Apps and App Stores in a new light: In the future we can expect pretty much everything to have apps, and apps that'll do almost anything.
Twitter's 50,000 App Spawning-Fest
Twitter is very simple, but it's having complex and subtle impacts on the social Webosphere and Net technology in general. Witness: it's resulted in some 50,000 third-party apps being written to access its stream of socially-relevant real time data.
That rather surprisingly big figure came from the company's Director of Platform Ryan Sarver, speaking at Le Web. Twitter can count how many apps it's spawned because the third-party developers have to register to link up to Twitter's API, and the list will include apps on smartphones, desktop PCs, and inside other services like Facebook. In one stroke that figure of 50,000 proves just how popular Twitter is...and highlights the rising tide of apps that the digitally-connected public are floating in.
And Twitter, ever growing, is going to do something that'll probably result in an app-writing flash-flood: It's opening up the firehose, and letting apps have full access to the live Tweet data stream. To promote this big move, which will result in more capable Twitter apps as well as more informative Twitter-mining statistic apps, the company's even holding a developer's conference next year in San Francisco. It'll be called Chirp.
Apple's App Store to Top 300,000 Apps Next Year
Analyst firm IDC recently predicted that Apple's App Store would top 300,000 apps by the end of 2010—it really will be the One App Store To Rule Them All, as IDC's guess for Android's app count is a peak of just 75,000 in the same time window. And that's fewer than the 100,000-plus Apple already has—downloaded over two billion times.
IDC's predictions actually represent a tail-off compared to the current growth rate in app development, partly because it's unsustainable, partly due to rising popularity of other platforms like Android, and partly because of App Store saturation. Over at Businessweek they talked about this facet of the news, and suggested that another factor in the tail-off is app developers getting irritated with Apple's App Approval System and a jam-packed Store that'll make it difficult for users to find new apps.
That's just rubbish. Apple is approving apps at a terrifying rate, faster than any one else, though some bizarre policies are limiting certain app features—like VoIP over the 3G network. And if you want your product to stand out and do well, then you'll have to treat the App Store like every other free market, whiny developers: You'll have to make your products novel and bloody good. That actually bodes well for iPhone users, as we may expect to see a quality uptick in new apps, alongside new capabilities as the inevitable iPhone version 4 arrives in mid-2010
Facebook Connect, Casual Gaming Apps, and How Social Nets Stitch Apps Together
Speaking at Le Web, Facebook's Director Development Network Ethan Beard revealed that every month some 60 million people use Facebook's easy login system Facebook Connect every month, and some 80,000 other sites (including this one) are now using the service. That's amazing—it points out how popular Facebook is, and it demonstrates how Facebook's social network is permeating to many corners of the Web.
That underlines how important Facebook's apps are—and Connect is one of them, albeit a behind-the-scenes one. With so many people using Facebook, its 500,000 apps are getting some serious user exposure. Among this huge list, the rise of social gaming as an in-Facebook app phenomenon has apparently surprised even Facebook's execs. As it did Apple's team too—the iPhone and iPod Touch have turned out to be damn perfect casual games platforms, and Apple now promotes the iPod Touch as a games machine with tens of thousands of available game apps (versus Sony's handful for the PSP).
And there's a growing phenomenon, something akin to Facebook connect, that's wiring up many of these social/casual games up into a kind of games app social network on the iPhone. Shrewd developers have realized that by including social nets inside their game apps, they can attract players to befriend and compete with other players around the world. That'll potentially keep the gamer using the app for longer, during which time the developers can serve up more money-making net ads to them.
Video Streaming on iPhone and the Apple Tablet
Ustream have just announced that for the first time with its Ustream Live Broadcaster App you can now live-stream video from the iPhone to the Web. It's yet another string to the iPhone's bow, and turns it into an incredibly powerful tool for journalists and writers of all stripes.
The relentless progression and innovation in the App Store does point to one thing though: As time goes by, Apps on the iPhone (and indeed on any smartphone) will get more and more capable. Next year's iPhone will be so multi-talented we'll have to re-write the old saying about Swiss Army Knives...because Apps will soon be available for everything. Seriously—the advent of powerful, wirelessly-connected portable nay pocket-sized computing platforms and clever programmers means that the only limits are our imaginations.
And when the fabled iTablet shows up next year, as new rumors are very strongly suggesting yet again, it will likely kick off a whole new portable computing revolution that'll be driven by yes, you've guessed it, a whole new class of apps.
So far I've mainly talked about apps on smartphones, as this is the current leading edge—and, let's face it, the iPhone leads the charge. Apps themselves aren't new—they're just the "programs" and "software" of old, repackaged and given a totally new spin by the mobile net—but they've become prominent because of advancing technology. And in a World where some TVs now run apps, where toddling babies can wirelessly Tweet what they're up to and cybernetic limbs seem closer to reality, then the only conclusion is that apps will soon be powering/tweaking/boosting/personalizing every bit of future tech in our lives.