The Rise of the App Culture
The past few years have seen an enormous growth of the use of smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices have taken such a dominant role in our lives that it’s very hard to imagine a life without them. We have come to rely on these devices for a lot of our everyday activities. Do we want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow? Just check the weather app. Want to find our way around town? Just go to the navigation app. Want to order a pizza? Use a home delivery app. Nowadays there seems to be a mobile application for nearly everything. With the extremely rapid growth of the mobile application market the past few years, it seems that apps will actually come to dominate Internet traffic in the not too distant future. Mobile internet use already accounts for 10 percent of total Internet traffic, as opposed to just one percent in December 2009. This growth will most certainly continue in the future, especially when you look at the rapidly increasing popularity of tablets. As apps become more and more significant in our society, we must try to get a better understanding of their specificity and use.
First of all, what exactly is an app? A mobile application is a software application designed for mobile devices, for a particular purpose. They can be downloaded from special distribution platforms depending on the type of phone, such as the Google Play store for Android Phones and the Apple App store for iPhones. Sometimes they are free, and sometimes they need to be bought for a (small) price. The amount of apps available is enormous. According to the Android statistics, there are currently over 550.000 Android apps in the market, while an average of over 10.000 new ones are added each month. To find the right apps in this pile can be hard, especially when you take into account the fact that 25 percent of them fall under the category ‘low quality’. As noted above, the variety of apps is remarkable, with app categories such as games, news, banking, navigation etc. Most big companies and institutions also have some sort of application nowadays, because they are increasingly recognizing the power of apps to increase customer engagement.
The increasing dominance of apps means that the way people primarily engage with the Internet is changing. A recent comScore study reported that already slightly more mobile subscribers used apps rather than browse the web on their devices at the beginning of this year. Using mobile apps is not the same as browsing the web. It has different social and cultural implications and should therefore be studied in a different way. While a study of the uses and practices of mobile apps compared to usual web browsing would be interesting, we must also think of the political implications of apps. People can not just straightaway surf an app like they would a website. Apps need to be downloaded, and often require users to sign up with an account. This is a much more controlled environment in which the user is caught up. Thus apps make it a lot easier for companies to guide user behavior and gather data about them. Moreover, the location-based technology inside mobile devices make different, more effective ways of reaching and targeting consumers possible for advertisers. Other issues that need to be taken into account are the differences between mobile apps and mobile websites, as well as the (temporary) exclusivity of some apps for specific mobile operating systems.
As mobile apps come to dominate the Internet, and are becoming an integral part of people’s daily lives, the need for a more specific study of these apps arises. I feel there is still a lot to be done and gained in this field. We are still in an early stage, but we are already part of what I would call an App Culture. Mobile apps are everywhere, and they will continue to invade nearly every aspect of our daily lives.