Content. This innocuous word is the central point around which a technological evolution is taking place. Consumers devour data at an ever increasing rate and innovation is rushing to keep up – providing, disseminating, managing and securing it as effectively and seamlessly as possible. And the app has taken on an increasingly pivotal role.
An app explosion
While phones have had the ability to access the internet for several years, the current surge in popularity is the result of several factors merging in a receptive market. These include ease of use, the simplicity of purchasing and installing apps, the implementation of 4G with its additional bandwidth, the development of faster and more powerful devices, the growth of services that exploit these features, and the rise of Near-Field Communication (NFC).
Purpose-built apps now offer users straightforward access to the content they want without any need to be technically proficient. The end-user buys a device for its accessibility options, its ergonomics, its access to an application store and its accessibility. In a time-poor economy, they don't want to have to download or read cumbersome manuals or learn new skill sets. The shift toward a plug-and-play society is clear; apps, and the innovation that supports them, need to evolve to meet these demands.
Additionally, the development of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications means that data and connectivity are proliferating. This connectivity allows for the seamless development and integration of intelligent devices that can be implemented in cars, homes and industry. Meanwhile, the data can be used to develop more efficient apps and services.
A recent Forrester report2 points out that the rapid rise of app development has driven tech industry innovation, and that the second round of innovation will 'leverage the intersection of cloud-based services; Smart Computing; and newly app- and internet-enabled devices like cars, appliances and entertainment systems'.
This 'app internet' will affect the way in which software is structured both on the economic and design fronts, as well as inspiring innovation and the development of apps that focus on both local and cloud-supported solutions.
The increase in the use of mobile phones has also seen an increase in mobile fraud, specifically within the arena of financial services. Security solutions have to ensure that mobile transactions are secure, that they engender trust and that they protect user privacy. According to recent research undertaken by Gemalto, consumer demand for an out-of-the-box experience, alongside demand for access to a viable app store, puts mobile operators under real pressure. When there are device or security issues relating to software or hardware, the operator takes the blame – and in developed countries, one minute of customer care time costs the equivalent of US$1. That cost can be minimized with the effective implementation of device management and security solutions.
The web vs apps
Websites designed specifically for easy access via mobile devices have been around for some time – but are they facing their demise, thanks to the app?
Not necessarily, according to Mark Showalter, Senior Director of Service Provider Marketing at US IT solutions company Extreme Networks. 'Apps have limited flexibility, and power users will ultimately want to see more than an app can provide,' he argues.
Zokem's May 2011 report3 states that 'applications are clearly dominating the web browser both on smartphones and tablets when measured with face timeÂ… In smartphones the share of application usage is overwhelming – it achieves almost six times more face time than web browsing.' However, tablet users spend more time on web browsers than their smartphone counterparts, and most users across both platforms turn to their browsers for online searches.
Showalter adds that another major development is the rise of crowdsourcing, where ordinary citizens share information online for the common good. 'In Japan [since the earthquake and tsunami], there has been crowdsourcing of Geiger counter data. They're hooking their counters up to the internet to see how much radiation there is. The question is, how do we tie all this in to improve our lives and the efficiency of business?'
He believes that the spread of smart grids (see p34), along with mobile grids and applications that use crowdsourced data, could well be an inherent part of what's to come.
A universal computing platform
A recent report by McKinsey4 examines another development: the next generation of HTML. A significant evolution in web standards, HTML5 allows programs to run through a web browser, making the browser the universal computing platform. Users can do anything from working to social networking to playing games, as well as accessing content stored in the cloud.
Both the mobile internet and the app could face stiff competition from this web-centricity, where a single application can be accessed from any device through a browser. Consumers only have to pay once and everything is accessible from any location and on any device. Perhaps viewing content on a browser will come full circle, or perhaps the app will evolve to render the browser obsolete. Either way, one thing is certain: content will remain king.