This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of CUSTOMER
Early applications for mobile novices did not yet grasp the transformative power of mobile technologies and how quickly users would adopt and demand more advanced solutions. In the early stages, many developers participated in a gold rush of applications, where the newness of the entire app realm allowed developers to earn substantial sums quickly. The real-world usefulness of the app was not always important; the fact that it existed and was able to excite enough users was enough. Early applications included simple games, rudimentary to-do lists, and alarm clock applications that were mainly novelties designed to attract only short-term users.
Apps are now firmly a part of everyday life that not only entertain but serve as the main portal of information to users that often guides decision making. Mobile devices allow people to create digital experiences wherever they go, where their thoughts can be aggregated with those of thousands of others.
This change is part of a broader cultural shift. It’s similar to the resistance seen with social networking sites five years ago, where individuals were at first hesitant to share their daily activities or pictures of their kids with a broad group of others. Where such social sharing once seemed unlikely, it is now commonplace, with some individuals detailing not only their milestone moments, but also mundane transactional events or their broader interests.
Mobile devices are increasingly used on a daily basis as commerce, navigation, and communication tools. Everyday monetary transactions are a prime example of the shift to function over fun, with mobile wallets and electronic currency becoming commonplace. Maps are another example of the way mobile apps are integrated with functions as basic as driving. Paper maps are already a thing of the past, and many users simply state the name of a place and assume the other individual will find it through search and map applications.
The retail industry is seeing firsthand the effects of mobile applications that are focused on function over all other concerns. With a mobile device, consumers can scan a barcode in a physical store, and if they wish to make a purchase they can simply link up to a payment provider such as PayPal (News - Alert) or through the store’s own account to complete the transaction. Such widespread usage will have a disruptive effect on point-of-sale systems and the need for human cashiers, as technology makes performing transactions an exceedingly simple process.
The trick for developers and companies that continue to build apps is to be able to create applications that flawlessly perform needed functions while retaining an element of fun and sophistication. App users are increasingly critical of those applications that are buggy or do not perform their stated function with enough agility or accuracy, so the function component of the apps need to be airtight.
The shift to mobile devices as transactional and efficiency agents is also seen in the modern workplace, where bring-your-own-device policies increasingly allow staff members to blend their personal and work-related data. Mobile status updates and other tools allow employees to manage their projects and remotely communicate, without the need for geographic proximity or one unified platform.
Brad McEvilly is creator of Photopon (www.photopon.com) , a new mobile application, set to launch soon, that allows users to visit a location, take their own picture, and then pull down a list of nearby merchant coupons.
Edited by Brooke Neuman