Apps, Apps, & More Apps!

December 3, 2011

It has become customary for those reviewing mobile devices to announce the number of application programs (apps) available for a given platform. Vendors continue to stir this pot, which Apple brings to a boil at every opportunity. Someday I expect the numbers to be eliminated, replaced by a catchy tag line like "billions and billions served."

What does it really mean that there are 500,000 apps for iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch)? And is it really the case that because one vendor can claim 500,000 as opposed to another's 50,000 that the former is better than the latter?

I think the whole thing is ridiculous. The sheer volume of apps means absolutely nothing except that there may be, in some dark crevice of the catalog, just the obscure app for which you and a handful of others have been looking. Worse than that, many of the apps are silly. Fun, maybe, but silly enough that counting them seems equally frivolous.

My favorite example of the frivolous app is the beer stein. The iPhone displays an animation of a beer stein. As the user puts the corner of the iPhone to his/her lips and tilts, the beer drains out of of the stein giving the appearance that it is being consumed. It's a clever app and a fun toy, to be sure. When I gave my sons iPod Touches for Christmas a few years ago, it was the first app one of them downloaded. The next ten were equally frivolous.

Then there is overpopulation. In the Mac App store are at least 25 Sudoku apps from almost as many vendors. I'm happy that I have a nice selection. But how should this contribute to the count? Is is one app or 25? For me, the main point is that Sudoku is available. The quantity is a nice surprise that contributes to competition and assures that there will be cream in this crop, but it's just one title.

it might seem that my overpopulation argument is a plus for the large count. But if one platform has 25 Sudoku apps and another has but 5, what is the actual difference? The odds are that both platforms have at least one good selection; dramatically large counts do not necessarily translate into an advantage because the best app could just as easily be on the platform with the smaller count.

And that's my bottom line. The issue is not quantity, it's quality. Having 25 apps is not much help if 20 of them are inferior. And with 500,000 apps in the Apple App store, it's a very good bet that there's a lot of junk.

Tags: Apps, Mobile, Software

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