Apple App Store turns five -- has it changed the world?

July 10, 2013 9:33 AM EDT

"This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway." -- Bob Dylan

The Apple [AAPL] App Store is five this month -- but has it really changed the world?

Five years on

The App Store is a huge sucess. Not only are iOS users far more switched on to the potential of the apps available via the store, but they are happier to purchase these things and far more likely to use them than users of other mobile platforms.

"Between the App Store's launch and late May 2013, customers downloaded 50 billion apps, according to Apple. Last month, CEO Tim Cook called the number "truly staggering." He also boasted that before July 2008, "nothing like the App Store existed" and claimed it had "fundamentally changed the world." -- Computerworld.

With respect to Mr Cook, I don't think the App Store has ushered in "fundamental" change: in this world, those not busy being born continue to be busy dying, as Bob Dylan once observed.

Hyperbole happens, I guess. Technologists seem particularly fond of talking about evolution, hoping, I suppose, to suggest the transience of software design is a step toward augmented humanity. But has the world changed? Humans continue to seek love and fulfillment; animals continue their search for food and shelter; flora and fauna continue to look to the sky in search of life in the light of the Sun. The fundamental nature of the planet remains the same.

What is true is that the "evolution" of mobile technologies is transforming the way those with access to these solutions work, rest and play -- just look at the impact of BYOD across enterprise culture for an example of this.

The changing face of software

All the same, we ain't seen nothing yet.

Today's apps are dumb. They interrogate servers for information; scan and recognize objects and people around us; help us capture the world in movies, music and images; they help us communicate, cross language barriers and drive from A to B.

But they're still dumb.

Apple's App Store anniversary is a lovely flourish to the entrée course of the connected device age, but it would be a mistake to imagine the store represents the way software will be seen in even five years time.

The music industry gives a sense of where it's all going. Spotify, Pandora and iTunes Radio deliver on the decade long music industry vision of access rather than ownership of music. Today's most switched-on digital natives will check new tunes out on one of these services way before they even dream of downloading a piece of music to own.

They want access to the sounds more than they need ownership of them.

This is the same model we will see become ever more dominant across all other forms of creative expression. TV shows and movies are already accessed in similar fashion: Lovefilm, Netflix, or iPlayer.

Software's no different.

Cloud and you

The fundamental misunderstanding about software is that it is not just about science -- it is also a form of artistic expression. Just as the artistic expression that is music is transforming from a thing to a service, so too is software, including the app.

Take a look at Adobe and its Creative Cloud offering. I know the company's plans for this are far more extensive than what we've seen so far. In future its software will be available as apps, online services, and via standalone packages -- but the software will become increasingly less dependent on the processing power of the machine a user has access too, and ever more dependent on the processing power offered up by Adobe's own Creative Cloud server farms. Software becomes a service.

The implications of this are quite interesting.

For example, you might take a photo with your watch, then deliver a sequence of spoken word commands with which to edit and correct the image, apply transitions, add captions and a title, and have that picture blasted via your various social media profiles to everybody you know in the world. All the processor intensive activity will take place in the cloud.

Software becomes something you don't own, but that you have access too.

The Apple App Store is a milestone along this highway, and Apple a prophet to a connected device age.

Smarter than smartphones

There's two terms any savvy technologist, pundit or consumer should explore which will occupy an ever-greater place in the mobile device future. These terms are:

The inevitable future of connected devices is seen in the first -- billions of devices all talking with each other, at least to an extent.

The evolution in the inherent intelligence within these devices is suggested in the second: as analytics and artificial intelligence software improve, mobile apps (or their future equivalents) will seek to not only augment your present on request, but to offer up their analysis of what you most need within your reality in the future.

Tomorrow's mobile apps will not be dumb.

They won't be apps, either, just a series of different interfaces (apps) to an intelligence held in the cloud. The growing importance of the cloud to future innovation is precisely why everybody on the planet should be deeply suspicious of the wholesale data surveillance represented by PRISM.

Today I am not celebrating Apple's App Store fifth birthday. Instead I look forward to tomorrow's App Stores, apps from which will enable access to cloud-based intelligent services the implications of which even today's most ardent futurologists can only speculate.

The App Store has not changed the world, but hints at future change.

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