Okay, I do at this point need to declare an interest. I’m an Apple fanboy. Not only have I got an iPad, an iPhone, a MacBook, and a MacBook Air, I have also in the past owned an iBook, a first-generation iMac, and even [drumroll please] a Newton.
(Buying a Mustang or a Mondeo, say, doesn’t make you a Ford fan. Having bought an Edsel – that makes you a Ford fan. And having been one of the “handful” of people who bought a Newton is a bit like that.)
But this article is not about the iPad, at least not directly. I love my iPad, but this article is not about the ways in which people will use iPads, but the ways in which they will use tablet computers in general.
The iPad has been a huge success; and that success will create an entire new market, which appears likely to be filled by similar generic tablet/pad/slate devices powered by Google’s Android OS. Several are either here or on the way.
Now there are many reasons why for most people and most tasks, a simple tablet is better than a more complex computer. But this morning I read something that made me think of a particular area of improvement. (This is probably obvious, because it’s something I myself already knew, but have only just perhaps joined the dots together; so apologies in advance for writing a post in which I’ll now proceed to state the obvious).
The article revealed that the proportion of iPad users who are female is starting to rise as it moves beyond the initial “early adoption” phase, and that it’s starting to become a strong platform for online shopping. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. It was this:
Usage of Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Shopping and Yahoo Travel rose by 28%, 25% and 22%, respectively, compared with Yahoo’s first batch of numbers. This could be related to the gender shift, as well, but it’s a good sign for commerce on the iPad — a key application that many big retailers are embracing with a giant bear hug. Banana Republic (GPS), for example, went whole-hog with an intricate and richly designed iPad application that takes users into a seemingly 3-D virtual store.
It’s all about the apps.
In the eighties and into the nineties, our computing was all about applications. You bought applications for your PC (or Mac), installed them, and used them. Buying them was a slow offline process; installing them frequently a nightmare.
Well not because the application is simply better that way. It isn’t. These “application” type websites weren’t quite as good as an actual executable website would have been – a proper email program like Thunderbird or Outlook is almost always a bit nicer to use than a webmail site like Hotmail or GMail, for example. But that wasn’t the point.
The key thing is that distributing your application as a website gets rid of both of the preliminary steps I described above; you don’t have to go out and buy the app, and you don’t then have to install it. And when Facebook et al want to change or improve their “application” they just roll it out by redoing the website.
(I should point out that there’s also an additional advantage: that you can use the “application” of many different computers).
Where am I going with this? Well one of the things that people say about the iPad is that it’s a wonderful device for surfing the web. And it is. But I think this is in some ways an example of transitional technology; where new technology is initially used as a better way of doing things the old way.
Because I think as times goes on, and we all get tablet computers, we’ll end up using the web a lot less. When we want to get the latest news from our favourite news site, or go shopping at our favourite store, it won’t be the web we turn to. It will be the custom app for our favourite news site, and the custom app for our favourite store, with those apps offering a far richer, more responsive experience than a mere website ever could.
Apps can be purchased, downloaded, and installed easily and quickly with just a few clicks. At a stroke, many (not all) of the reasons that caused the turn of the century shift away from applications to “website applications” are gone. (Although the web will still be there as a handy backup for when you’re somewhere else, much as many of us access our email via dedicated email programs like Outlook when at home, and via web when away).
People now joke that “there’s probably an app for that”.
But whatever it is you want to do, there probably is. The web’s never going to go away. But I can see it being used a lot less. If I had an online shop, I think I’d want to start getting an app developed, pronto.