Smartphones, iPad fuel bustling app market

As technology evolves, businesses are striving to keep up and make sense of it all. These days, smartphones, e-readers and...

By Isaac Bonnell

Technology is evolving faster than ever, leaving many people struggling to keep up. The business world has become a virtual arms race to see who can adapt to the newest technology and take advantage of the next big innovation.

But the fear of the unknown and the untested can make it difficult for businesses to welcome new technology with open arms. Take the iPad for example: What can businesses do with a device that is not quite a laptop, but more than just a big iPod or iPhone?

Dave Dunkin was one of the lucky few to get an iPad right when it hit stores. As a software designer for Logos Bible Software, Dunkin designed the company’s applications or “apps” for the iPhone and the iPad. He doesn’t really consider himself a gadget geek, but he is always interested in new technology — and the iPad especially caught his attention.

“If the company hadn’t got me one, I would have bought one for myself,” Dunkin said.

Despite all the criticism the device has received, Dunkin likes the intuitive touch screen format and thinks the iPad could change the way people think about surfing the Web or reading on mobile devices. But he admits the potential of the iPad is difficult for some people to see.

“It seems that people either love it or hate it,” Dunkin said. “Only time will tell how it plays out.”

Dunkin compares it to the release of the iPhone in 2007. At the time, there were already other smartphones on the market and sales of the iPhone weren’t great at first. But when Apple unveiled the second-generation model with the App Store a year later, the business community started to take notice.

Apps for everything

When the Apple App Store opened in July 2008, it included 500 third-party apps. Now, nearly two years later, there are almost 200,000 applications available and the App Store has surpassed 4 billion downloads.

“It’s completely saturated, but it’s growing astronomically,” said Rick O’Connor, president of Blu Sky Creative Services, a Web design firm that also develops phone apps. “People are still designing new apps.”

Be it games or map programs, many businesses are now starting to dip their toes in the market after seeing the success that other companies have had with smartphone apps. And applications have proven to be flexible enough to work for various pricing models, O’Connor said. It all depends on what results you are shooting for.

For example, a software company could create an app that is a trimmed down and cheaper version of their software, hoping that people will buy the app and then upgrade to the full product. On the other hand, a game company could create a free app in hopes of simply getting their name out there and marketing to potential customers.

“You can create a game and submit it to Apple and you can be in front of 40 million people almost instantly,” O’Connor said. “The cool thing with new technology is that there are so many things to try and it’s cheap to try them.”

For Logos Bible Software, the decision to develop an app for the iPhone and iPad came about from customer demand and has led to a shift in the company’s strategy, said President and CEO Bob Pritchett.

“Our strategy is not about any one platform anymore — it’s about getting to wherever our customers are,” Pritchett said. “It is a big shift for us to be moving to multiple platforms. We’ve been largely a Windows product platform, but now we’re trying to be platform independent. This idea that software is not limited to a single platform anymore is big.”

Making sense of it all

With so many different smartphone platforms and new gadgets out there, though, it can be difficult to know where to start.

“In some ways there’s frustration because to be on the cutting edge now, you have to be coding for multiple platforms,” Pritchett said.

Pritchett likens it to the 1980s, when several operating systems were still vying for market dominance. So to be successful, software companies had to design their software to run on several different operating systems. And it was even harder for consumers to decide which operating system would suit them best.

The market for applications is like that now, O’Connor said. The iPhone has carved out a good niche for itself, but it is by no means the only smartphone out there. And with the selection of apps growing everyday, consumers can easily be overwhelmed.

“The problem is that there are so many new applications now that it’s hard to get noticed,” O’Connor said. “You have to rely on getting the word out virally.”

But more important than that is simply being there first, said Dunkin, the app designer for Logos. With a market that is changing so rapidly, being first allows you to capitalize before the market is saturated.

“There is definitely an advantage to being in early,” Dunkin said. “For example, there are other Bible apps that were out there before us and now we’re trying to catch up.”

And what will happen to the iPad?

“I don’t think we’ve seen the best that can come out of this yet,” he said. “You can now do anything at anytime from anywhere, and businesses are still trying to figure out the best way to engage their customers at anytime and anywhere.”

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