Confessions of an app aholic

Hi, my name's Rick, and I'm an app-aholic. Now comes the part where you say, "Hi, Rick," and we move on to talk about my problem. So here we go.

Hi, my name’s Rick, and I’m an app-aholic.

Now comes the part where you say, “Hi, Rick,” and we move on to talk about my problem. So here we go.

The full scope and longevity of my app-addiction came clear to me about a week ago when, having mislaid my Sony portable MP3 player, I fished out my old, semi-defunct iPod from the junk drawer.

After powering it up, and discovering it will no longer sync with any of my computers, I also discovered that I had a full 56 mobile applications on it that needed to be updated.

“I can’t believe I even have 56 apps on this thing,” I said to myself. So I went to my Settings app, opened the “About” section, and discovered I, in fact, had 113 apps on it.

Way too many apps; and now, with about half of them out of date, I would probably spend the better part of three hours getting them all current and operational – but I wouldn’t do that, since I wasn’t planning on using any of them other than the music player.

Though I had apps enough to fill up seven “pages” on my iPod, all the truly useful ones were on the first two. The rest were mostly sports, radio and book-reading applications that I probably used once or twice and quickly forgot about. Mercifully, because I am a congenital cheapskate, almost all of them were freebees.

But all that wasted storage space, and the potential wasted bandwidth involved with downloading a panoply of updates, got me thinking about where we are headed in the age of mobile computing, and that we are heading in the wrong direction.

It may be hard to do anything about the situation, right now, but I am becoming more convinced the “app” model for delivering content on mobile devices is already seriously flawed, and likely to get progressively more unwieldy and technologically unjustified.

A recent survey reported in CNET estimates that there are presently something like 350,000 apps available for the Apple iPhone and iPad, and some 88,000 for the competing devices using Google’s Android operating system.

A majority of the apps in the Apple store are pay-for-use (about 66 per cent), while only some 39 per cent of the apps for Android devices require you to pay for them – though that percentage has increased from 22 per cent a year ago.

There is therefore a considerable amount of commercial inertia involved in preserving the app-driven model for providing content to mobile devices. But, with the growing availability of high-speed cellular connectivity, and the rapid increase in the on-board computing capability of smart phones, the rationale for this approach is rapidly going away.

Since most apps are really just customized tools for accessing information from the world wide web, it stands to reason that the tool of choice for accessing that kind of information is properly the web browser.

At the moment, the limited computing capacity of the current smart phones prevents them from running web browsing software powerful enough to deal with many web sites on the Internet. But it is already a common practice for many websites to identify that a certain kind of mobile device is trying to access them, and to direct it to a version of the web page that is friendly to the capabilities of that particular device.

This approach makes enormously more sense in the long run, allowing you to use one generalized tool for going about your business, rather than finger-swiping through a clutter of custom-designed apps to find the one you need to get your information fix.

Even as things are now, there are a whole host of apps that really don’t do anything you can’t do equally well, or better, by just using you mobile’s web browser.

The Google Search app, for instance, adds precisely nothing to the functionality you can get by just typing in your query in the Google-search box of your iPod’s Safari web browser, or the Android Chrome browser.

Other applications, like the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) one, actually dumb down the content available on the website – to the point, in the IMDB app, where you find yourself continuously clicking on the app’s “View on” link and opening up your web browser, anyway.

Sooner or later, the cost of buying so many apps, keeping them up to date, keeping them organized, and even just finding out which apps you need or want, is going to start overwhelming the average consumer.

All of us would be better served by having the option of choosing from a selection of more powerful, better-designed web-browsing applications on our smartphones, rather than mucking around with a mess of apps of wildly varying quality and functionality.

I, for one, hope the logic of the computing environment will bring that about sooner rather than later.

That way, I will be liberated from my app-aholism, and free to indulge the information junkie that is the real, inner me.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.

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