“One of the most convincing arguments from the voting floor was from a woman who said that even her grandmother had heard of it”, said Ben Zimmer of American Dialect Society. He was explaining the reasons behind the decision of the 128-year-old organisation to choose the word ‘App’ as the word of the year for 2010. It was two years earlier in 2008 that Apple launched iOS App store which allowed third-party app development and distribution. This freeing up of the App market led to an explosion of new and innovative apps and became part of the lexicon of mobile device users.
Mass consumption of mobile apps began in the late 2000s with the arrival of app distribution services but the history of mobile application development lies further in the past. In the 1980s, British company Psion launched series of pocket computers called Psion Organiser. The second model of the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) featured apps like file manager, password protection applications as well as puzzle and adventure games. Later it launched EPOC operating system with Backronym Electronic Piece of Cheese, which fuelled more sophisticated apps like spreadsheets and word processors.
Often called the world’s first smartphone IBM Simon featured applications like e-mail, address book, calculator, and calendar which were focused on productivity. As processors became faster and memory devices became cheaper, new innovations filtered through. In 1998, EPOC became Symbian which was a joint venture owned by Nokia, Psion, Ericsson, and Motorola. Symbian OS was widely used by Nokia, Samsung, LG and Ericsson albeit with different platforms and APIs.
Concurrently, another company Palm released Palm Pilot in 1996 with features like touchscreen and data synchronisation which are now ubiquitous in contemporary smartphones.
In 2007, Apple launched its first iPhone which operated on the iOS operating system. A few months later, a Korean company HTC launched the first smartphone operating on the Android operating system developed by Internet giant Google. Both the platforms offered a marketplace for apps where users were free to install both paid and free apps for their smartphones. Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market (now named Google Play), as well as multi-touch screens, revolutionised the App eco-system. Microsoft also jumped on the bandwagon with Windows OS which was adopted by Nokia over its own Symbian OS.
Both Android and iOS platforms hit a billion installations milestone in 2009-10 and in 2011, app usage surpassed mobile web usage. The convenience of the mobile phone gave apps an edge over desktop software and it is increasingly preferred over mobile web.
2014 arrived with wearable tech through Apple Watch, Google Glass, and Android Wear. These devices could use haptic technology for niche utilities like fitness trackers and navigation tools and connect with smartphones for mail notifications.
Internet of Things (IOT), Cloud Computing and Virtual reality will open new avenues for mobile applications. A Refrigerator that detects empty can of milk and orders it through IOT integrated e-commerce App or Virtual Reality Game and Education Apps, possibilities are numerous. In the cut-throat competition between apps, innovation and dynamicity will be the key to capturing markets as well as customers’ minds.