Helga Schmid is an independent researcher who has been helping us navigate the world of apps for mobile devices. With an eye for design and Talk to Me in mind, she shares some of her conclusions below, as a guest journal-er. See the apps we like here, and the ones we haven’t had a chance to digest yet here.
Looking for a Needle in a Haystack
Mobile devices have ushered a new era for consumers and creators who continually re-invent not only the form but also the content. 200,000 apps now and 200,002 in two more seconds.
Two months ago, when I started conducting a research as part of the curatorial team of Talk to Me, the world of apps opened up for me and left me intrigued by the range of possibilities. From fake phone calls, to remembering to buy milk, or navigating through a supermarket, there is an app for everything, guaranteed. Even if you’ve never even thought of before, chances are somebody has, and it’s already available.
In examining the app phenomenon, what is most interesting to me is the change in the relationship between these mobile devices (smartphones or tablets) and the user. It feels as if technology is losing its distance to us.
The devices become personal, social and touchable. Especially the fact that curiosity comes into play–every application has its own interface to be figured out through using and playing with it. It’s the beginning of an intuitive process: the device understands us instead of us understanding the device. The time is gone where we need to read complicated instruction booklets. The simplicity in using these interfaces should enable all our grandparents to be on Facebook and Twitter, to share with us their growing tomato plants in the garden or their interpretations of them.
The Greatness of Limitation
What is also interesting is that many apps can help to organize our lives and save time. On the other hand we spend time in a way that we would not have before. They are transforming the way we experience life, and how we accept both the mundane moments and the shared moments of the everyday. One great aspect about apps is their limitation in function and content. When we buy a book we know exactly what to expect and how long it will take us to read it. Websites instead have infinite depth and complexity. Whenever we open a site or a link we dive into a new universe.
In contrast, the app has a clear framework and function with a beginning and an end. The difference is that there are thousands of apps but each app itself is clearly defined. For us as users, the hard part is finding the right app that provides us with the exact information or service we want.
The Unfree Flow of Information
Another emerging trend I’ve noticed is the willingness to pay for an application which provides content that is available for free on the web. A user friendly Facebook app for the iPad costs $4.99 why? And, let’s face it, we are talking mostly about Apple products here, which means that one company has the control over the available apps and therefore the content on our devices. Which brings it back to what an iPad and an iPhone are: consumer products that promise freedom and personalization.
The Age of Round Corners
After spending two months researching apps, I saw a project of a young product designer: a cardboard folding play area for kids, called my space by Liya Mairson. My first thought was “that is an iPhone for children to live in!”
However, my impression didn’t prove to be true. The project does express the impact of these products on our daily life and culture. Rounded shapes are received as inventive, young and flexible. Today all these round edged products become the definition of contemporary lifestyle and have an enormous impact on our culture both on an aesthetic and interpersonal level.
We always want technology to loose it edges: we are one step closer to a technology that is a bit more human.