The ‘app’ software methodology has been a success in the mobile world - and it’s trivially, tiny transactions have certainly made it very profitable. I can’t fault it, it has simplified user interaction for better and for always. Nonetheless it has had some interesting side effects.
It has revised the way consumers buy software, and how developers make it, but most interestingly it has severely altered our expectations of it.
We now expect software to be different in many ways, but perhaps most interestingly, it must: A) perform one function (well) and B) look beautiful.
Applications came before ‘apps’ and were profoundly different - they had many functions. Lets use Outlook/Entourage as an example. It can read ones mail, schedule ones tasks, store ones contacts - and more, of course. The more ‘modern’ method however contains a plethora or ‘apps’ all distinct in function. You have an app for every assignment, and only use and buy, the ones you need.
Both clearly have their perquisites and problems. Saving by only shopping for the ones you need while loosing out component concord is the obvious comparison to make. Personally I think there is more going for the newer compartmentalised approach. It gives consumers a choice and small developers a chance. It also lends itself nicely to incremental maintenance and is more robust to changing consumer demands. However I don’t think it’s a case of ‘one size fits all’. Take an application like Photoshop or Xcode for example, when working on significantly more complex projects, it soon becomes apparent that it’s not efficient. Having said that, there are complex tasks done with many smaller programs, like web application development, so it’s not as if the new method is dumbed down - just different.
Apps have also brought about big changes application aesthetics and user interaction. There is a large incentive to have a clean and stylish interface as it’s often used as a selling point, even a feature. While this is often a good thing and can lead to greater ease of use it has some obvious set backs.
Older style apps are far from pretty and even less graceful but none the less they get the job done. However, while they often have a steep learning curve, they all follow the same basic procedures making it easy to pick up other applications as required. Apps now of course often have radically different interfaces, and while each app might be easier to pick up individually, they share far less in common.
New apps fully utilise available graphics power and the result can certainly be quite pleasing, and while I know others don’t, I quite like skeuomorphic apps. The problem with this though is backward compatibility, older machines can’t handle expensive bitmapped interfaces, and sadly, get dropped from the compatibility list.
As a (self perceived) developer in-the-making I find this ‘evolution’ in application style intriguing and would like to keep user interaction design as a future career possibility. Hopefully, in a short a time as possible, me and consumer software development will be in the same place. I just wonder where, and when that will be.