August 30, 2010

This App is Your App: This App Was Made for You and Me

Among the typical postings about pet walking, housekeeping and space rental, I spotted this flyer about a mobile app. It was a delight to see, simply because someone made something. Maybe the app’s idea stemmed from personal experience. Maybe it stemmed from something that was gleaned from the media. Maybe it stemmed from a conversation. Whatever the source, the creator believed in the idea for an app and got it real.

Apple’s ubiquitous “There’s an app for that” campaign sounds cliché nowadays because people are taking advantage of it. The marketplace for apps is feverish. According to Juniper Research, “while 2.6 billion applications were downloaded in 2009, the figure is expected to rise to more than 25 billion in 2015, driven partly by networks and vendors setting up their own stores.”

Journalist Virginia Heffernan’s article “The Death of the Open Web” may leave a reader deflated. Instead of viewing the empowering effect of mobile apps—from both sides of the screen, for user and maker alike—her position appears to call for a stopgap on the release of apps. In essence, she calls for a hiatus on finding and seizing creativity in a medium and network made to feed concepts and their execution. Reader Dana Curtis Kincaid countered Heffernan’s buzzkill with an enthusiastic question: “What’s so wrong with wanting a good tool… ?”

The reality of making apps is also the reality of creativity. Whether found in the App Store or Android Marketplace, the relative openness of these platforms compels not only developers but everyone to take creativity to task. A task as functional as note taking, as purposeful as looking for local seasonal food, or as whimsical as doodling.

The long-simmering excitement of the “app phenomenon” makes it feel overblown. But it’s excitement about making something fun, something useful, something appealing—something creative. A lot of people (and I’m one of them) are actively visualizing how people can interact with tools, especially mobile ones, to do things. If this is the kind of excitement that motivates people, I want an app for that.

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A version of this piece was published at the blog of custom software developer Pathfinder Development.