They haven’t really gotten their due, and we often tend to forget that the success of smartphones and their effectiveness as personal computing devices is because developers across the world have made apps that improve our productivity, add colour to our lives and make a lot of things much easier. But there is a larger social and economic impact of these apps that we tend to forget. Think of our lives before some of these apps:
The bunch of restaurant flyers that Zomato has replaced, the regular haggling with the local taxi guy which Uber and Ola have ended, and the expensive international roaming calls which voice calls on WhatsApp and Hangouts have replaced. Yes, they have had a drastic impact on our lives and have played a really important role in offering new employment avenues to millions of people. Last week, I had the opportunity to chat about apps and how they are changing our lives with Philip Schiller, the senior vice-president of Worldwide Marketing at Apple, the one company that triggered the app revolution.
In Bengaluru to kick off Apple’s first App Accelerator project to help Indian developers, Schiller opened up when I asked if apps can even change nations and economies. “One of the huge possibilities is building through technology for people from diverse backgrounds to get opportunities that might not have existed in old industries. Men and women, people from different ethnic and economic backgrounds … there is a great levelling through apps and technology where none of that matters, what matters is how good is your idea, how good is the opportunity you want to create, and that increases diversity and creativity of people from different perspectives,” he said, adding that the whole world wins when that happens, and the society can often change through that process.
Schiller, who oversees Apple’s apps store, among other things, said this change in society was something Apple tries to do with our developer communities “which reach people from all over the world with different perspectives. And they get to influence all of us. I think that is a big way that society changes.”
“Every company, every business, every educational institution has something to improve through software and applications,” he told me, adding how there are two magical things that are happening because smartphone technology and applications have become so pervasive in our lives. “One, there is a technology adoption by consumers at a scale seen never before—these are almost supercomputers in our pockets; and at the same time, you have software that can transform everyday businesses and services that we all rely on in new ways.” Schiller reminded how software has changed the way we interact with our governments, our places of work and places of education. And if we pause for a second, this software is often best expressed as apps on our devices.
“If you look at it at that scale, we have just begun,” he says, highlighting that the number of apps that are being created, the number of downloads and the amount of revenue being generated in this sector are all measures of the same. Schiller also explained how environments where technology adoption has been weak right now have the opportunity to leapfrog many developed environments to adopt latest technologies, which might take longer for developed markets to accept. “For example, you can see in environments where the number of personal computers per household is very low, the move to smartphone as your primary device can happen quicker. You can see that environments where broadband access is low can leapfrog to cellular networks.”
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Schiller is convinced that the smartphone won’t become secondary to artificial intelligence and voice-based interactions that run on it. He explained that even as voice interaction becomes more prevalent and artificial intelligence becomes better, the value of the screen will remain very strong in our lives. “I can ask Siri for directions, but seeing the map on the screen helps me understand where I am going,” he explained, adding how photography and the written word, as well as the largest app category of gaming, still need the screen.