[Op-Ed] Software, apps, and the mobile revolution

Let me tell you a story…once upon a time, there was the PC.  And computer engineers made things called software for these PCs, and life was good.  Then came this thing called the “smartphone” and there was a need to get software onto the smartphone.  And so this software had to change and, when it did, it became something called “apps” and the mobile revolution had begun.

With most of the features of a computer in the palm of people’s hands, there was less and less need to be tied to software on a desktop computer, or even a conventional laptop.  And so companies were born that began from ideas that were based solely around mobile computing.  Slowly, other companies began to follow this example and came to realize the power of what mobile apps in the hands of the consumer could do for them.  This trend towards operating in a mobile environment for business has only accelerated in the last 5 years, and will likely continue into the foreseeable future.

For example, Twitter usage is now more popular on a mobile app, even though the website is still one of the most visited pages on the Internet.  As of March 2012, Twitter had 140 million active users with over 340 million daily tweets.  The majority of these are now coming from either the official Twitter app, or intermediary mobile apps like TweetDeck or TweetCaster that allow posting to multiple social networks.  
Some apps like Instagram are incredibly popular and designed exclusively for mobile, and Instagram’s recent acquisition by Facebook demonstrates the value of apps well designed and built for mobile platforms.  With its recent integration into Apple’s iOS 6, Facebook is also looking to drive up mobile usage.  In a recent Today Show interview with Matt Lauer, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that one of Facebook’s main areas of opportunity going forward is mobile.  Of the about 600 million are active Facebook accounts, only a small percentage are currently using the mobile app.  The largest current group of Facebook’s mobile app are using the Android OS; however, this number may shift with iOS 6’s recent release to all iPhone versions.

The rise of tablets/iPad usage has increased the usability of PC power computing in the mobile environment.   This market is the next big niche being exploited by OEMs, with the emergence of Android tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD as well as the iPad and soon-to-be-released iPad Mini.  Go to a coffee shop or airport and look around…how many people do you see that don’t have a laptop with them, but instead are carrying an iPad?  Heck I was at a car dealership the other day and I sat next to a guy using his iPad on a stand as if it was a laptop.  It was the same with increased development of camera tech into mobile phones, because you may not always have a stand alone camera, but you always have your mobile phone with you.  So now you have up to 41MP cameras available in mobile phones.

As the software apps get better, and do more things, they need more resources from mobile hardware…so the hardware has to evolve.  And when the hardware improves, which means that previous limitations of the software go away, the software can evolve even more, allowing it to do even more things.  This necessitates another evolution of the hardware and so on and so on.  In this way, the innovation is actually driving itself, creating a closed loop where change is continuously occurring, for the betterment of the overall technology.  Software vendors are realizing there is a need to scale up their smartphone apps and scale down their laptop/PC apps.  And companies that don’t have a mobile version of their software right now better have one soon if they want to stay competitive in the new mobile workspace.

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