Hardware Is Meaningless. It’s About the Apps
Sure, people love their iPhones, iPads, and Androids, but it’s the apps that give them their value and utility. Pro or con?
Pro: Where the Real Excitement Is
It’s all about the apps. If you own a smartphone, you’ve got the world at your fingertips. Mobile devices such as the iPhone (AAPL) have changed the way we manage our lives. Yet the single most important factor in the growth of smartphones is the proliferation of apps they enable.
Sure, the iPhone’s and Android’s (GOOG) high-quality touch screens, built-in GPS, and accelerometers are engaging, but hardware continues, with better components, to evolve constantly over time. This is not enough to explain the boom. Mobile devices have come and gone, and even now devices more advanced than the iPhone attract less attention because they fail to put apps front and center.
Software—or more specifically, an enabled eco-system of software developers who write great applications—is the key. These developers push the envelope of what is possible and in turn drive the next generation of devices needed to support successful apps. Hardware evolution is a result of the software requirements, not the other way around.
Smartphone apps now make it possible for people to go beyond the Web to get things done. Businesses are taking note of this and making apps a priority, as smartphone-toting customers may not sit down at their computers for days. Making them happy requires that businesses reach them using apps available on any device.
Apps, not hardware, deliver the products, services, and marketing messages that customers want and that businesses need to ensure their success in an increasingly mobile world.
Con: Total User Experience
A mobile app can be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it won’t get used unless it’s part of an integrated user experience hosted by the device. We recently conducted a broad usability study of 34 iPad applications. Many of them looked great and worked just fine on an individual basis. But people don’t use apps on a standalone basis. They use apps as part of a totality, composed of the device, the wireless connectivity, and all the other apps they’ve downloaded.
iPad apps have wacky user interfaces that go any which way without much consistency. The rules change every time users shift to another app—something they do often. In our user testing, many iPad apps scored poorly because the device lacks an overall coherent user interface.
In a different study, we found that most iPhone users have several screenfuls of apps they either never use or have used only once or twice. The download stats for these apps may be impressive, but they fail to build a strong total user experience for the phone.
The first two generations of iPhone competitors were blatant failures because of the poor usability created by their uncoordinated total user experience. It’s not enough to have a nice touch screen or an app store. The integration of hardware, user interface, and apps functionality has to come together to form a supportive whole.
Anything mobile will inherently be small and weak compared with the power of a "full" computer. The way to overcome these deficiencies is with a tight design, where everything works just right. To achieve this goal requires a great device with strong user-interface standards. Individual apps can succeed only by fitting with the platform.