You are probably an iOS or Android developer, or perhaps you are a just a casual user of apps, but have you taken a close look at which apps you use most? How many of them would you say are outside of the hardy staple of Gmail, Google Search, Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps or YouTube? Probably not many and if you do use others, probably not nearly as frequently as those ones I listed there. Even a recent New York times report talks about the beginnings of app saturation or “burn out”. When it comes to apps fighting for your time, what makes these apps so special compared to the others? Sure they have billion dollar companies behind them, but you know there is something else that makes them so useful… a back-end infrastructure that is rock solid.
I think standalone apps are going to slowly go away in favor of apps which are part of bigger products or product suites. Only one of many voices in a much bigger system. It isn’t enough these days just to have a “killer app” that can work as a flashlight or a calculator. Companies are going to be looking to create apps that work hand in hand with their services and infrastructure. Google, as usual, is ahead of the curve on this. Many of the apps I listed all work on Google’s infrastructure. They have brought once web only tools to the mobile platform. They make calls out to web services or APIs that do all the heavy lifting and report back to the device. No longer are you going to see an app that just modifies an image. You are going to see one that modifies an image retrieved from your photo album stored away on some data cloud. Apps that do something without being connected to some kind of service / database or cloud are just going to not make it. As developers I think we should plan for this and hopefully companies like Apple will realize that eventually they will have to allow 3rd party APIs in. If they don’t, we beat it out of them by developing for Android or perhaps Firefox OS when it arrives.
I am not talking about just throwing out apps that are going to send and retrieve from a cloud service. I am talking about a thick client that will have a bit of processing power on the device but also interact with cloud elements and perhaps one another. We see this sort of thing in the communication industry I work in with the rise of VoIP apps. This industry is quite exciting in that developers are beginning to leverage existing phone systems to carry video chat calls, instant messaging, presence etc. If you don’t have the supporting phone system, the app is useless. You may have apps which do image manipulation, upload the image back to be saved on a 3rd party service, fetch that edited photo later only do manipulate it further. And it will be seamless!
We all know that even games, which were often just great to play standalone is getting more connected as it is getting more social. Let’s face it, playing with limited applications with no service or infrastructure behind it just gets boring.
Infrastructure to support this new wave of apps are going to cost a lot to maintain and keep running with all this mobile growth. Why not have these apps offer a more direct way to advertise and charge? These are things that standalone apps can only do in a limited fashion. You can show an ad on an app, but what about serving fresh ads or reporting how users interact with those ads? With the new evolution of mobile devices supported by a back-end infrastructure we can serve ads on the fly, get information back on how those ads are received and adjust all dynamically. I think they will even be willing to shell out hard earned cash for the service itself and get the app for free.
In a mobile world that is growing tired of “another new app”, users will be looking to devices with some meat behind them. Not only demanding more power from their device, but also a service to back them up and a company to call to and voice their input.
Do you think standalone mobile apps will survive? How many of you developers our there are developing for these standalone apps? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!
If you have any time, check out The Coders Lexicon programming ebook which contains 200 programming project ideas. Many of them would work well for these type of connected mobile applications. Plus includes ideas for games, networking, web, file and other applications.