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Monday, December 1, 2014

The Appreneur: Are Apps the New Wild West of Technology?

I shared this article on Why Didn’t I Think of That’s Facebook Page a couple weeks ago, but it’s worth exploring further.

The article is “The Rise of the App Entrepreneur” from BBC News. These “app entrepreneurs,” or “appreneurs,” as I’ve decided to call them, are growing in number by the day. These are the men and women who design and program apps for your beloved gadgets, mainly smart phones like Apple’s iPhone. But with Amazon’s Kindle opening up their device to App-designers, as well as Apple’s new iPad–which only runs “apps,” as I’ve griped about, the field of play is opening up even further.

For those of you wondering what Apps are, they’re much like the computer applications that you’ve grown to know and love. But “Apps” are specifically designed for certain devices using proprietary technology.

Look at the iPad for example. At first glance, it seems that the iPad is just like a computer, but flat and with a touchscreen. And it is, more or less. But unlike a normal PC or Mac computer, you can’t just go to the store and buy a new piece of software for it. It can only run “Apps” purchased through the Apple App Store. And, while many of these apps are designed by third-party developers, it’s not really free-reign. Apps for the iPhone and iPad can be made available at the sole discretion of Apple.

Okay. So what do apps do? Just about anything. There are GPS apps, there are word-processing apps, there are apps for email and apps for shaking virtual babies. (Well, the Baby Shaker app created such an outrage that Apple pulled it from its store. But it did, at one point, exist.) There’s even a new app for the iPhone called “Bump.” Let’s say you meet someone and want to exchange contact information. If you both have the Bump app, all you need to do is bump your iPhones together, and each person’s contact info is stored in the other person’s phone.

What’s really interesting, though, is that some people are making a living creating and selling apps. These “appreneurs” are finding success far and wide, often in unexpected places. One such example is Smule, a company which makes apps that turn the iPhone into a musical instrument. Click here to listen to Why Didn’t I Think of That’s Smule story.

Today, the app market is worth 2.5 billion. But is it sustainable? Some people, including app developer Don Castelnuovo, have their doubts.

“When something generates a ton of excitement at a certain point people are entering it because of the excitement not because there’s anything solid there,” he says.

“It’s a lot like the internet bust,” he says, referring to the share price collapse of internet companies a decade ago.

“A lot of people are doing a lot of crazy ideas… it could end up being a bubble,” he says. But he also believes the app economy “could take off”.

The likelihood of the App-market collapsing on itself isn’t very clear. But Apps aren’t going away anytime soon. They’re becoming more and more commonplace on more and more devices. And, while I’ve never personally developed in App, the process is a lot more accessible than software-programming was at the dawn of the personal computing age.

Indeed, the BBC News article quotes David Yoffie, a technology expert at Harvard Business school, describing the typical app development company as “two kids in a garage.”

So maybe the app-community is in its Wild-West phase, a free-for-all of ideas and innovation. Well, almost. Just so long as Apple decides to let you sell your product.

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